Mill Creek quarterback Daniel David takes the ball himself during a game earlier this season.
NORTH GWINNETT AT MILL CREEK
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Bob Sphire
Record: 4-1, 2-1 region
Last week: Beat Duluth 42-28
Mill Creek Hawks (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Shannon Jarvis
Record: 4-2, 3-1 region
Last week: Beat Meadowcreek 55-6
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: North Gwinnett won 29-7 last year
Directions to Mill Creek High School: From I-85, take the Hamilton Mill Road exit and go east. At the immediate light, turn left on Ga. Highway 124/Braselton Highway. School is approximately three miles ahead on the left
A few weeks ago, North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire sat in the stands at Mill Creek amazed.
Sphire's Bulldogs had a bye week, so he spent the evening scouting Mill Creek as it played Norcross.
He watched as Norcross, which beat North earlier in the year, built a 35-14 halftime lead over the Hawks.
"I said this is not right. They are good enough to be in this game," Sphire said.
Mill Creek rallied from a 35-point third-quarter deficet to lose 49-41. The loss fired up a normally calm Hawks head coach Shannon Jarvis, who hopes his team plays North like it did the second half against Norcross.
"Where I was upset the most was with our fundamentals in the first half," Jarvis said. "We have worked on that the last two weeks."
Mill Creek's loss to No. 3 Norcross was the second time it's fallen to a perennial power this year. The Hawks led 2010 state champion Brookwood before falling 31-21.
Mill Creek (4-2, 3-1 region) will get another chance for a signature win against three-time defending Region 7 champion North Gwinnett. A win for either team keeps them in the hunt for a first-round home playoff game.
"There's no understating this game and what it means," Jarvis said. "To be in the upper echelon in this region, you have to beat the top teams. North is one of them."
North is 6-0 all-time against Mill Creek, including a 29-7 win last year, and has allowed a pair of scores the last two seasons. But Sphire is convinced this year's Mill Creek team is different from year's past.
"I think this team is really good. They lost to two really good teams," Sphire said. "If they had beat Brookwood or Norcross they would be on people's radar. But nobody knows about them, but the people in this region."
Everyone knows of the reputation of North Gwinnett. The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1) have been to the playoffs the last eight seasons and began the year with a win over state-ranked Colquitt County.
"To me, they are well coached and are a tremendous team," Jarvis said. "They have played good throughout the year."
Quarterback Michael Haynes leads an offense that is putting up 32 points a game. Haynes, in his first year as a starter, has thrown for 877 yards and nine TDs. The senior is also a threat running the ball with 336 yards and three TDs.
"He has done a tremendous job," Jarvis said. "He has our attention."
Cam Lewis rushed for 96 yards in last week's win and Nate Brown continues to be one of Haynes' top targets.
North's defense is led by linebackers Carter Cross and Jalen Brooks. Cross had four tackles, two for loss and one sack last week, while Brooks posted eight tackles, one for loss and one sack.
"As long as Mo Dixon is coaching that defense, they are going to get after it and execute," Jarvis said. "You have a small margin of error."
North's defense will have the challenge of slowing down a Mill Creek offense that features running back Jacorey Lewis. The senior became the school's all-time leading rusher last week and has 765 yards and 10 TDs.
Matt Pursell leads the team in receiving, while DeVozsea Felton and Michael Cheeks also have been impressive.
"They have some cats that can fly," Sphire said.
Quarterback Daniel David has been the biggest surprise on offense. The sophomore has thrown for 980 yards, nine TDs and just one interception.
"I didn't really realize how old he was until halftime," Sphire said. "Physically, he looks like a senior and plays like a senior. He's put together like a senior. He plays mature. I was really impressed with him."
Linebackers Andrew Sciara and Patrick Dike lead Mill Creek's defense with 44 tackles each, while nose guard Kelsey Griffin has 42 stops and two sacks.
"This team is really, really good," Sphire said. "I don't think people realize how good they are. We have to play well to have a chance."