North Gwinnett and Camden County were squaring off for the second time in history and the Bulldogs evened the all-time series 1-1 after a commanding 34-14 victory over the Wildcats in the season opener. Camden County was opening a new era under first-year head coach Welton Coffey who lead Raines (FL) to a state title in 1997 as the head sideline boss and spent time on the staff at Valdosta prior to coming to Camden County in 2006.
The Wildcats broke out in front on a 37-yard touchdown run by Antiono Wimbush for a 7-0 lead capping a 64-yard drive set up by an interception on North Gwinnett’s second play. North Gwinnett would come right down the field led by first-time starting senior quarterback Hayden Sphire finishing a 58-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nate Brown to even the game at 7-7.
“I was really pleased with the way Hayden [Sphire] bounced back from [the early interception], they did a great job in their coverage, they disguised they jumped into underneath man coverage at the last second, they baited him into a throw and he put it right behind him and went right back out and ran the offense,” head coach Bob Sphire said.
CJ Leggett then capped a 47-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to give North Gwinnett a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Leggett finished with 140 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 totes for a 6.0 yard average leading the Bulldogs ground attack that put up 189 yards.
Camden County would hang momentarily as sophomore Harrison Poole ripped off a 60-yard touchdown 19 seconds later to knot it at 14-all with 11:06 left in the second quarter. Poole lead Camden County with 136 yards on 12 carries and the touchdown. That would be it for the boys from Kingsland as North Gwinnett would seize control the rest of the way.
“The game is four quarters and you can’t let up at any time and you got to play with a certain level of emotion and excitement throughout the entire game especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Camden head coach Welton Coffey stated.
Sphire hit Caleb Scott on a 21-yard touchdown pass making it 21-14 and Wesley Edwards raced 36 yards to set up an 18-yard field goal by Michel D’Angola as the half ended giving North Gwinnett a 24-14 lead at the break.
North Gwinnett continued to pour it on scoring on their opening two possession of the third quarter on a 40-yard D’Angola field goal and a 10-yard touchdown pass from Spire to Brown for the 34-14 margin that would hold until the final horn. Hayden Sphire, the son of head coach Bob Sphire, finished 15-27 206 yards 3TD 2INT while Brown led a deadly corp of receivers with 4 receptions 74 yards 2TDs. Despite two early turnovers and a third ending a drive inside the twenty in the third quarter, North Gwinnett racked up 395 yards of offense.
“I’m sure we can find some things on the video that we can do a whole lot better,” Bob Sphire said afterwards. “I’m pleased in three areas. Number one our kicking game was outstanding, anytime your good in the kicking game it gives you a chance to set the table. Number two I was really pleased with the new offensive line and the cohesiveness they showed and number three I thought our defense executed and was patient and adjusted and really played sound assignment football, you play well in those areas and you got a chance to have a pretty good night.”
For Camden County it’s back to the drawing board after suffering their worst margin of defeat loss since 2006 in a second round playoff lost to Warner Robins. The Wildcats were 1-6 passing for one yard and had 248 total yards of offense but were hit with 11 penalties for 113 yards.
“We didn’t execute well and I though we were undisciplined. We had a number of flags and that’s not characteristic of us. I don’t squabble about referees or anything like that we just didn’t get it done,” Coffey said. “You learn from this, you get out on the film you get out there and work, let them see it and you go on from there. We’ve got to get these young inexperienced guys experience and ready to go.”
For the Wildcats that will come next Friday against Baker County (FL) at home while North Gwinnett will travel to Grayson.