Thursday May 6th, 2021 9:28AM

No. 1 North Gwinnett looks to knock Norcross off top of 7-AAAAAA heap

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
SUWANEE -- North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire is not one to look in his rear-view mirror very often.

Case in point. After two dominating wins to open the season, Sphire and the Bulldogs find themselves ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2006. He said polls only tell where you've been, not what lies ahead.

"I'd rather be No. 1 than last I suppose, but it doesn't mean much if you come out the next week and lose. We don't worry about polls that much," he said.

What lies ahead for the Bulldogs is a trip to defending Class AAAAAA state champ and fellow region rival Norcross on Friday in both teams' Region 7-AAAAAA opener.

The Bulldogs (2-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAAA) are coming off a 35-0 destruction of a very good Grayson team last week. The Blue Devils (1-1, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAAA) rallied from a 55-0 beatdown from the nation's top-ranked team (Booker T. Washington out of Miami) in their season-opener to beat Parkview 21-7 last week.

Sphire said the only thing that matters now is getting off to a good start in the region. The winner of this game has gone on to win the region each of the last two seasons and three of the last five.

"It's a huge game for both teams and really means a lot since it's the first region game of the year," he said. "The past doesn't ever really matter in this game. All I know is that they have about 18 (starters) returning and they look just as good, if not better, than they did last year.

"You can throw out that first game they lost. I saw the Parkview game and they got better with each possession. They will be just as tough as they've always been. The team with the fewest mistakes and the most big plays will win."

The series has turned in recent years with the road team winning the last two and six of the last eight meetings.

"I didn't realize that. I don't know if that means anything but hopefully that's a good sign for us," Sphire said.

The Bulldogs have displayed a balanced attack behind junior quarterback Hayden Sphire. Sphire has been solid with 538 yards passing and four TDs in the first two games.

Nate Brown, Caleb Scott, and junior tight end Daniel Immatorbhebhe have proven a tough trio to stop combining for 20 receptions and 302 yards receiving. Brown has three TD catches and Scott one. Senior running back C.J. Leggett has carried the load on the ground with 156 yards and one touchdown rushing.

Coach Sphire was pleased with the offense but said the defense has been the early catalyst. They have allowed just 14 total points to two high-powered offenses. Grayson averaged nearly 40 points a game last year.

"It's hard to single out any one or two guys (on defense) because they have played outstanding as a unit," Sphire said. "We felt we would be pretty good defensively but right now they're playing even better than we expected. But they will have their hands full this week."

Norcross quarterback A.J. Bush guided the Blue Devils offense to two scores and Myles Autry had a long punt return for a touchdown against Parkview.

Despite the game being on the road, Coach Sphire said the enthusiasm of the community is ratcheting up the closer Friday gets.

"There's always an excitement with this game, like with Peachtree Ridge, but with the ranking and how this game has decided the region the last few years I think everyone knows how big this game is," Sphire said. "It's just one game, but there's a buzz going around the area. It should be fun."

NOTES: Norcross has won nine straight home games and is 20-2 at Norcross Stadium since 2009. But, both losses were at the hands of North Gwinnett. . .The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are 17-1 in their last 18 road games going back to 2009, including two straight road wins over Norcross. Their last road loss to the Blue Devils was in 2007.
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