Georgia Football Championship Preview 2013

20131206 Colquitt-250

The all-time series between Norcross and North Gwinnett is 11-8 in favor of Norcross. Both play in one of the most respected regions/districts in the nation. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross, Norcross defeated Collins Hill and Collins Hill defeated North Gwinnett during the region season. They all shared the region championship, Collins Hill lost in the quarterfinals.  That brings us to Georgia’s 6A championship game. Not only will Norcross and North Gwinnett be playing for the first time against each other for a state title, it will be a game featuring Top 25* teams nationally and they’ll be playing to settle that region title thing even if unofficially. Now any region/district in the nation that adds that to its championship game means it plays big boy football. In Georgia it will be only the eighth time.

No.24 NORCROSS enters as the defending state champion riding an eleven game winning streak. The Blue Devils defeated Etowah, Brookwood, Lowndes and Colquitt County averaging 25.5ppg 6.25ppga, all at home.  Josh Boyd is running the football, AJ Bush is directing the offense and then there is Myles Autry. In last season’s title game Myles Autry saw limited action due to a knee injury. In the semifinals Autry ditched the knee brace, caught a pass and danced his way into the end zone – which shot life into Norcross on their way to victory. Autry has been mainly quiet this season with only one touchdown during the regular season.  His first touchdown reception of the season sent Norcross past Colquitt County and into the finals for the second consecutive season, a first for Norcross football.

Defense has been the key to Norcross’ postseason run. The Blue Devils were the only team this season to hold the Packers without a touchdown. Even Alabama 6A Champion Hoover (15-0) did not hold the Packers without a touchdown.  Lorenzo Carter, Kevin Mouhon, Warren McWilliams, JaQuan Frazier have lead the way defensively. Jordan Noil anchors the strong Blue Devil secondary.

Since allowing 55 points to Florida 4A Champion Booker T. Washington (FL) (14-0) and 36 points to North Gwinnett in their two losses, Norcross in their 12 victories allowed only 7.58ppg, have not allowed more than 20 points in a game and have only given up 25 points total in the postseason. Norcross has struggled in the playoffs with slow starts while finishing strong. The Blue Devils can ill afford to start slow against North Gwinnett so getting out the gate quickly will be vital for them.

No.22 NORTH GWINNETT has done its damage on the road and sometimes in thrilling fourth quarter fashion.  The Bulldogs defeated Milton, Archer, Hillgrove and McEachern, winning by an average margin of 3ppg in their last three wins. They defeated Archer on a last second field goal, scored a touchdown with just over a minute remaining to defeat Hillgrove and added a late field goal for insurance against McEachern.  Under Bob Sphire, North Gwinnett is 8-4 in postseason roads games. At 4-0 this season, North Gwinnet is the first team to win four road games to reach the finals in the Georgia’s highest classification and are 5-3 against Norcross – winning five of the last six meetings under Bob Sphire.

Running back CJ Leggett has been instrumental in the ground game during the postseason. The senior transfer from Chattahoochee via Buford, has 734 rushing yards and 9 TDs in the postseason. He rushed for a postseason high 279 yards against McEachern. In the regular season Legget was slowed by turf toe and rushed for 28 yards against Norcross. Hayden Sphire has played in every postseason game since missing the final two regular season games due to injury. North Gwinnett is 11-0 when Hayden Sphire starts and finishes games this season and has scored 30 or more points in postseason games.

Dante Sawyer may line up anywhere for North Gwinnett. The highly-touted defensive linemen also lines up in the backfield on short yardage plays, blocks, runs and even tossed a touchdown pass in the postseason. Sawyer is the anchor for a defense that is 21.75ppga in the postseason. That number could be of some concern especially since the Bulldogs have given up 84 points in their last three postseason games, an average of 28ppga.  Carter Cross, Jaye Stackhouse, Anree St. Amour and Avery Elford are also leaders on the defense that has had just enough key plays in the last three games to help the Bulldogs into their first championship game since 2007, and second overall under Bob Sphire. This will be North Gwinnett’s first title game on a neutral field as they played at Lowndes in 2007.

I give North Gwinnett the edge with their balanced offense and clutch special teams but to Norcross in overall defense. The play of Myles Autry is the x-factor in the full scope of things however in the end the better team will win and one has to think its North Gwinnett with all the toys they have overall. My pick: North Gwinnett 29 Norcross 27.


No.36 Buford is in the championship games for the seventh consecutive season seeking their sixth state championship during that span and 10th overall. The Wolves feature a host of backs (Joshua Thomas is the hoss), a dual quarterback operation and a fierce defense entering the title game needing only 10 points to break the all time season scoring record (682-Dublin).  Buford defeated Sonoraville, Woodward Academy, Carver-Columbus and Callaway averaging 39.5ppg in the postseason.

Buford will be Buford and you can only expect such. They overcame their first bit of adversity this season against Callaway where they trailed at the half for the first time this season to bounce back and score 17 unanswered points to win. The Wolves are tough thanks to players, leaders like Korie Rogers. However, Washington County will be the most explosive rushing team, that can also pass and defend, they’ll see this season. Think of Auburn’s rushing attack for reference purposes.

Washington County is seeking their fourth state title overall and first since 1997. The Golden Hawks from Sandersville, GA have three rushers over 1,000 yards this season in quarterback A.J. Gray, running backs Melvin Hill and Danyale Wicker. Hill made the highlight reels with an impressive 99-yard punt return for a touchdown last week in their win over Ringgold.

Washington County is allowing 10.0ppga in the postseason and blanked a Ringgold team that entered the game averaging 42.3ppg in the postseason. The Golden Hawks average 48.75ppg during the postseason with two 50-plus point games.

“WaCo” is just as athletic as Callaway yet may have more athletes. Buford’s core is 25-30 deep and “WaCo” goes just about that deep overall. Buford gets the edge in coaching and fundamentals while Waco has the edge in heart and athletes. Both teams have been waiting for this moment while many across high school football have been waiting on this match-up. Buford’s in-game adjustments are as good as anybody in the nation bar none. My pick is Washington County in overtime: Washington County 35 Buford 28 

* rankings


Joel Hillsman
Joel is a sports media freelancer covering high school and pro sports since 2009. He is play-by-play announcer and show host for high school football and basketball on NFHS Network covering the southeast and produces game highlights for NBA TV and Turner Sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *