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THE BLITZ: Gwinnett the new TitleTown

ESPN’s SportsCenter named Valdosta TitleTown in 2008 for its winning tradition.

That moniker is probably best suited for Gwinnett County these days.

Gwinnett had three teams playing for state championships this weekend with Buford winning in Class AAA and Norcross in Class AAAAAA.

It was the second straight championship for Buford and sixth in the last seven seasons. The Wolves have won nine titles since 2001 and 10 overall in the program’s storied history.

Norcross repeated in Class AAAAAA and was the first school to do that in the highest classification since Camden County in 2008. Norcross’ win over North Gwinnett gives the county four consecutive state titles in the highest classification, joining Brookwood, Grayson and Norcross last season. If you go back to 1996, Gwinnett has 10 of the last 18 state titles in the largest classification.

If you add in Buford’s nine titles and Wesleyan’s championship in 2008, that’s 20 state championship by Gwinnett County teams over the last 18 years.

When referring to Gwinnett, they say success lives here. It certainly does when it comes to high school football.

Caffeine needed for finals

Maybe I’m getting too old, but they have to start the state championship games earlier.

The Class AAAAA title game on Friday didn’t end until 12:15 a.m. The Class AAAAAA title game finished after 12:20. Both games started around 9:30 p.m. when they were scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m.

That means that after the Norcross-North Gwinnett game, the teams didn’t leave the Georgia Dome until around 1 a.m., got back to the school at 2 a.m. and then in bed by 2:30 a.m.

Also, there are thousands of high school kids who go to the game. You can’t tell me it’s safe for them to be driving home at 1 a.m. on I-85 in the fog and rain with their friends in the car.

With seven title games to play in two days, it’s too much to cram in. The GHSA needs to move the Class A public and private games to an alternate site. Those state finals typically feature schools from South Georgia, Augusta and Savannah. It makes no sense for these schools with less than 300 students to travel hundreds of miles to play games at the Georgia Dome.

As far as the other games, Class AAA and AAAAA should play on Friday with start times at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. On Saturday, Class AA, AAAA and AAAAAA will play with start times at noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The four-hour blocks give plenty of time for high scoring games, overtime, post-game celebration and pre-game warmups. Even more importantly they will keep the start times on schedule.

Who is next?

Gwinnett County has had three teams win the last four state championships in the highest classification. As we move into 2014, what team will continue that trend for next season?

Defending state champion Norcross graduates 62 seniors, including all of its starters on offense. So it will be a tall order to defend the title a third year in a row.

My two teams to make a deep playoff run are Mill Creek and Archer. The Hawks return a talented quarterback and a pretty good offensive line. Archer returns most of its top players next season off a team that went 11-1.

Autry officially back

In 2012, Norcross’ Myles Autry was the most exciting player in Gwinnett County, if not the state. He made dazzling cuts and jukes running the ball, had big catches and he returned kicks for touchdowns.

Then he was hurt in the state semifinals and the Autry that wowed us was not seen during the 2013 regular season. He had 20 TDs last season and just three prior to the state finals this year.

He wasn’t himself with his patented cutback moves across the field or breakaway speed. Autry had his doubters and even sat out a few games.

That’s why it was so nice to see the senior finish his high school career on a high note. Autry caught the game-winning touchdown in the semifinals against Colquitt County with a cutback run.

He then helped his team win the state championship with a 92-yard kickoff return for a TD and a 69-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

The difference in the last two games and the rest of the season was the knee brace Autry took off.

College recruiters backed off of Autry a little bit this season, but I think he showed with his knee brace off he’s back to the old Myles Autry.

Maloof the new dean

Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe, Gwinnett’s all-time winningest coach and longest active head coach, is retiring this month.

That means Norcross’ Keith Maloof will take the reins as Gwinnett’s dean of football. Maloof completed his 15th season at Norcross, which includes a pair of state championships the last two seasons.

Grayson’s Mickey Conn is next with 14 years.

Leggett a monster in the playoffs

Running back C.J. Leggett didn’t have a great start to the season with a turf toe injury. But the North Gwinnett senior turned it on during the playoffs.

Leggett rushed for 840 yards and nine touchdowns in five playoff games. He finished the year with more than 1,700 yards, but had he been healthy he probably would have eclipsed 2,000.

Stingy Devils

Norcross’ defense was lights out in the playoffs, particularly in the second half. The Blue Devils allowed just 39 points in five playoff games. Even more impressive is they only allowed 13 points in the second half during the playoffs.

They shut out Coqluitt County in the second half of the semifinals and North Gwinnett in the state championship game.

2014 Corky Kell announced

The Corky Kell Classic announced its teams for next season. I thought Gwinnett would get four teams in the prestigious kickoff event, but I never imagined five.

Archer, Mill Creek, Brookwood, North Gwinnett and Norcross will be playing in the event on Aug. 22-23.

That’s right. The Corky Kell will be a two-day event next season. Archer will play state power Sandy Creek on Friday, while Mill Creek will face semifinalist McEachern, Brookwood takes on South Georgia power Valdosta, North Gwinnett faces semifinalist Colquitt County and Norcross takes on state runner-up Tucker on Saturday.

Next season’s games will be the best matchups the Corky Kell has seen in a long time, if not ever.

It will be Archer’s first time in the event. The Tigers won the Region 8 title this year and lost to state runner-up North Gwinnett in the second round on a last-second field goal.

Mill Creek was the odd man out in Region 7 this year, but could have easily made a long playoff run. The Hawks have been to two of the last four quarterfinals.

Brookwood has been in the event since it started and has been to playoffs 12 straight years. North and Norcross, well, that was a no-brainer. They played each other for the state title.

Here’s the schedule for the Corky Kell Classic

Friday, Aug. 22

At McEachern

5:30 p.m. — North Paulding vs. Creekview

8:30 p.m. — Archer vs. Sandy Creek

Saturday, Aug. 23

At the Georgia Dome

8:45 a.m. — Kell vs. Carrollton

11:45 a.m. — Mill Creek vs. McEachern

2:45 p.m. — Brookwood vs. Valdosta

5:30 p.m. — North Gwinnett vs. Colquitt County

8:30 p.m. — Norcross vs. Tucker

Daily Post all-county team

The Daily Post will release its all-county team on Christmas. The all-county team will likely have some different names from the coaches all-county team that was released last week.

Who are some players we should consider for the all-county team?