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Gwinnett, South Georgia powers collide at Corky Kell

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COMING SUNDAY

Pick up your copy of the 2013 Football Preview in the print edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

When it comes to state supremacy in Georgia high school football, there’s two parts of the state that claim to be the best.

There’s Gwinnett County, which has produced the last three state champs in the high classification. Then there’s South Georgia, which has won eight state titles since 1998.

Those two parts of the state will meet today at the Georgia Dome in the Corky Kell Classic for early season bragging rights for who is better. No. 11 ranked Grayson will face No. 2 Colquitt County in a rematch of the 2011 state semifinals, while No. 3 North Gwinnett will take on No. 7 Camden County, the last South Georgia school to win a state title.

“South Georgia plays some great football,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. “It’s a brand of football you better be ready to play and strap it on.”

Since 1996, the state title in the highest classification has been won by a Gwinnett or South Georgia school. The only exception is 2006 when Roswell tied with Peachtree Ridge for the championship. Gwinnett’s Brookwood, Grayson and Norcross have won the last three, while Camden County was the last non-Gwinnett school to win state in 2008 and 2009.

Colquitt County and Camden County both hail from Region 1-AAAAAA, which Score Atlanta named the most competitive region in the state this month.

Grayson’s Region 8 was ranked No. 5 and North’s Region 7 was No. 4.

“Those comparisons, you never know,” Sphire said. “Region 1, I can say they have some tough teams playing in it. But Region 7, there’s six teams battling for those four playoff spots.”

Grayson head coach Mickey Conn had a similar thought.

“I don’t take too much into that. The last three years, two of the state champions have been from Region 8,” Conn said. “One thing with Region 8, we’re not a flashy region. We run the ball and play defense.”

This will be the third time in four years that Grayson and Colquitt will face each other. Both of the previous meetings were in the quarterfinals with Colquitt winning in 2010 and Grayson in 2011 on the way to the state title.

They didn’t play each other last season, but there was still controversy between the two state powers. After Colquitt head coach Rush Propst filed a complaint with the GHSA about Lowndes stealing signals, Grayson was pulled into the drama as well.

“I also found out that Buzz Payne was at Grayson and that happened during the semifinal game (in 2011),” Propst told the Valdosta Daily Times. “I heard that it happened at halftime last year.

“I’ve lost a lot of respect for Mickey, if that happened. Now, that is alleged.”

Going into today’s game, Conn said that situation is no longer an issue.

“There’s no real controversy,” Conn said. “I talked to Rush about it. Everything is fine.”

Grayson lost 19 starters from last year’s 10-2 team that fell to North Gwinnett in the second round. The Rams will face a tough test in Colquitt, which was 10-4 and lost to Norcross in the semis.

“Colquitt is definitely a tough one to start with,” Conn said.

The Packers have 16 starters back and a new defensive coordinator.

“We’re a little unsure about what they will do,” Conn said.

North Gwinnett and Camden have been of the state’s most successful programs in recent years. In the last seven years, Camden has won 81 games, while North Gwinnett has 78 wins.

“That tells you what kind of program they are year in and year out,” said Sphire, who has a 224-68 overall record in Georgia and Kentucky.

The Bulldogs used a last-second field in last year’s Corky Kell to begin an 11-2 season that saw them lose to eventual state runner-up Lovejoy in the quarterfinals.

The Bulldogs return 11 starters, including defensive end Dante Sawyer. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior is the No. 4 ranked college recruit in the state. Camden County was 11-2 last season and lost to eventual state champion Norcross in the quarterfinals. Jeff Herron coached the Wildcats for 13 years before taking the head job at Class A private school Prince Avenue. Offensive coordinator Welton Coffey was promoted to head coach.