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Defending state champion Norcross host top-ranked North

Todd Cline and Will Hammock break down the Region 7 showdown between North Gwinnett and Norcross and give their predictions.


North Gwinnett’s Daniel Imatorbhebhe (15) runs for yards after a catch against Grayson’s Jourdan Staton (25) during week one of high school football action in Loganville Friday. North Gwinnett defeated Grayson 35-0. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

North Gwinnett’s Daniel Imatorbhebhe (15) runs for yards after a catch against Grayson’s Jourdan Staton (25) during week one of high school football action in Loganville Friday. North Gwinnett defeated Grayson 35-0. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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TALKIN' FOOTBALL: Region 7 Showdown

Todd Cline and Will Hammock break down the Region 7 showdown between North Gwinnett and Norcross and give their predictions.

Todd Cline and Will Hammock break down the Region 7 showdown between North Gwinnett and Norcross and give their predictions.

The winner of Friday's Norcross vs. North Gwinnett game won’t secure the Region 7-AAAAAA championship.

But let’s face it, whichever does win has to like its chances of claiming the region crown.

For six of the last seven years, the winner of the game has gone on to win the Region 7 title.

“There’s a lot of ball to be played,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “This is one of eight games in the region. A win puts us in pretty good position, but it’s no guarantee.”

So who has the advantage?

Is it Norcross, the defending state champions Or is it North Gwinnett, ranked No. 1 in the state?

You could make an argument for Norcross, which won 31-21 last year. Or you could argue North Gwinnett, which has won four of the last five against Norcross.

“They have the trophy on their shelf,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. “Until someone takes it away, they are the team to beat.”

Clinton Lynch caught two touchdown passes to lift Norcross to a 31-21 victory over North last season. The win snapped the Bulldogs’ 22-game region winning streak that spanned three years and included region titles from 2009-11. Prior to Norcross’ win over North, the Blue Devils had suffered some heartbreakers. They let a 22-point fourth-quarter lead slip in 2011 and fell 38-0 in 2010.

“Whenever we match up with each other, whoever makes the least mistakes will walk off the field the winner,” Maloof said.

Norcross began the season as the heavy favorite to repeat as state champion. It was ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the nation. Then it took a 55-0 loss to Florida’s Booker T. Washington, the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, in the season opener.

It rebounded last week with a 21-7 win over Parkview and is now ranked No. 7 in the state.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Maloof said.

The biggest difference in the two games was turnovers. Norcross turned the ball over five times against Washington and had just one fumble against Parkview.

Josh Boyd had 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Parkview, while Myles Autry had 112 all-purpose yards.

“They have great talent,” Sphire said. “We always get their A game and I expect that Friday night.”

North opened the season with a 34-14 victory over South Georgia power Camden County. Then it followed it up with a 35-0 victory over defending Region 8 champion Grayson. The Bulldogs’ defense had two touchdowns and two safeties in the win.

“If we can get that every time, that would be great,” Sphire said. “I know they have some players and it will be a much different approach.”

While the winner of this game has gone on to claim the region crown in recent years, that may not be so easy this season. Mill Creek and Peachtree Ridge are ranked in the top 10, while Collins Hill has reached the postseason last five years.

“All the region games are important,” Sphire said. “Win or lose, this game it has an impact on where you place in the region.”

NORTH GWINNETT at NORCROSS

North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAAA)

Coach: Bob Sphire

Record: 2-0

Last week: Had a bye

Norcross Blue Devils (7-AAAAAA)

Coach: Keith Maloof

Record: 1-1

Last week: Beat Parkview 21-7

Last meeting: Norcross won 31-21 last year

Directions to Norcross High School: From I-85, go west on Beaver Ruin Road to Buford Highway and turn right. At the next light, turn left on Langford Drive. Cross Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and turn left on Spalding Drive. School is on the left.