North Gwinnett’s Christopher Leggett (7) celebrates a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s Corky Kell Classic against Camden County at the Georgia Dome. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
ATLANTA — After edging a perennial South Georgia power in last year’s Corky Kell Classic, North Gwinnett toppled another Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.
There wasn’t much close about this one, though.
The Bulldogs, ranked third in Class AAAAAA, defeated No. 7 Camden County 34-14 in the annual showcase at the Georgia Dome in a game that could have been more lopsided if not for three North turnovers, including an interception in the end zone.
“It really reflects on how hard our guys work in the offseason,” North head coach Bob Sphire said. “I know Camden has, too. But it goes back to having a year-round plan and going through all the things to get to this point and be prepared. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but you’ve got a chance. Our kids obviously took the plan and did a great job executing it tonight.”
North, a 16-14 winner over Colquitt County in last year’s Corky Kell, took control in the second third quarters, outscoring Camden 20-0 over that stretch.
Hayden Sphire shook off a pair of interceptions to complete 15 of 27 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns, two to Nate Brown. Brown had four catches for 74 yards.
New running back C.J. Leggett carried 22 times for 140 yards and a TD, while backup Wesley Edwards rushed for 46 yards on just seven attempts. Caleb Scott also caught a TD pass for the Bulldogs, while Michael D’Angola made both his field goals, a 40-yarder and an 18-yarder.
“It was a great feeling to play well,” Brown said. “I’m just glad we came out and got the win. Our boys have been working all summer just for this moment right here. For it to all come together right here, feels great.”
The Wildcats got two early scores off the North defense — a 37-yard run by Antonio Wimbush and a 60-yarder by Harrison Poole less than a minute into the second quarter — but the Bulldogs didn’t allow much else under new defensive coordinator Robert Andrews.
Camden was shut out after Poole’s TD run and didn’t have a second-half first down until less than 10 minutes remained, when North brought in its defensive reserves.
“They played great assignment football, understood their assignment and they stayed at home,” Bob Sphire said of his defense. “They never got baited with the misdirection. And they took on blocks with the same nature of physicality that they were being blocked. There’s a science to that and our defensive coaches obviously did a great job getting them in the right place.”
After throwing an interception on North’s second offensive play and seeing his team fall behind 7-0, Hayden Sphire rebounded on North’s first scoring drive. The senior quarterback hit Brown with a 7-yard TD pass with 5:28 left in the first quarter to cap the eight-play march.
Leggett’s 7-yard TD run early in the second quarter put North up momentarily, but Poole’s long TD run on Camden’s ensuing offensive play tied the score.
It was all North from there, however.
“It was all about hard work,” North lineman Dre Smith said. “We just came together. Everything just started clicking and we played well together as a team.”
Hayden Sphire hit Scott for a 21-yard score later in the second quarter and a 35-yard run by Edwards set up D’Angola’s short field goal for a 24-14 halftime lead.
North got points on its first two drives of the second half as a D’Angola field goal was followed by a 10-yard TD strike from Sphire to Brown. An interception in the end zone kept the Bulldogs from scoring on their third straight possession of the second half.
North was solidly in control by then, finishing off another win over a South Georgia foe. It was a nice boost, but the Bulldogs would prefer a Dome win in the state finals instead.
“The past is just a humbling experience,” Brown said. “We’ve knocked off these sort of teams, but we haven’t won state. Not to dwell on the bad, but this is just a momentum builder for next week. We’ll celebrate this tonight and this weekend, and get back in the film room Monday to get ready for Grayson.”