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Norcross vs. North Gwinnett coach's take

As coach of one of several common opponents of Norcross and North Gwinnett in Region 7-AAAAAA this season, Peachtree Ridge’s Mark Fleetwood has a unique perspective of tonight’s Class AAAAAA state title clash.

Fleetwood, whose Lions lost to the Blue Devils 24-20 on Oct. 25 and to the Bulldogs 44-22 on Nov. 8, breaks down both teams and gives his thoughts as to what each team has to do to win.

NORCROSS’ OFFENSE

They’re good up front and they run the ball well, and I think they’ve got really good receivers. I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve been able to mix it up and do both really well. The thing about their quarterback (A.J. Bush) is his ability to use his legs. He can make some things happen, and he throws the ball well enough to where you can’t leave him open. That was the thing about them offensively that scared me. … They seem to be a little more methodical with what they do. It’s not fancy. They’ve got really good athletes, and when they’re executing hard to stop them.

NORTH’S DEFENSE

The thing is, they’re good up front on the defensive line, and all three inside (line)backers are good. … They play so well out of their defense. … They’re really consistent. They’re smart and their key reads are really good. … They play with so much spirit. They don’t get their (spirits) down ever even when they get behind. That’s a neat thing to watch that.

NORTH’S OFFENSE

They’re very systematic. What they do, they do well, and they’re going to keep doing it. They’re very patient. If they get behind, they don’t panic and continue with game plan is. ... Everybody says they’re spread, spread, spread, but at end of the day, they run the ball extremely well. When they do throw, even as good as they are with Caleb (Scott) and Nate (Brown), they don’t just throw to one guy. They spread it around. … They’re really good and really physical up front. From center to guard to tackle, they’re good. They pass protect well. As an offensive unit, they execute as good as anybody we’ve played.

NORCROSS’ DEFENSE

They’re the best they’ve been on defense over the last few years. Their box is really good. They can play on defense any (type of) game. You want to use speed? They’re fast. If you want to play a muscle game, they can do that. If you want to play a finesse game, they can do that, too. They’ve done a heck of a job as a unit. They had to replace some people from last year, but obviously, they did. One end (Lorenzo Carter) is serious pass rusher, the other (Jean-Baptise Kouassi) is just really strong. You look around and where is their weak link? There is none. The corners have played well and made plays. They’re not just cover guys. Their safeties are physical. That’s what I like. I was really impressed with how tough those guys are. And (linebacker Kevin) Mouhon is a man.

KEYS TO BEATING NORCROSS

If you go back to the first game (with North), it’ll be the ability to stop the big play. They’ve both got ability to break big plays. What blew it open (for North) was big plays. And if you can keep their running game contained you’ve got a chance. You have to make them more one-dimensional (on offense).

KEYS TO BEATING NORTH

Field position could be a large part of this game. If you make them one-dimensional too, it’s going to be hard. But they’re not going to be as impatient. … If North can stick to its game plan, they’ll be hard to beat. (The best way to possibly get North out of its game plan) would be rattle the quarterback (Hayden Sphire). If (Norcross) can do that, it can affect the quarterback’s play, That could give them an edge.

PLAYERS YOU HAVE

TO STOP ON NORCROSS

(Running back) Jonathan Boyd. If you slow that (running game) down, I’m not saying they can’t throw it, but … Norcross hasn’t been the the most powerful (passing) offense.

PLAYERS YOU HAVE TO STOP ON NORTH

(Running back C.J.) Leggett. Right now, with the last four or five games, he’s been hot. Or maybe Nate Brown. This goes back to the big play.

PREDICTION

It’s a tough call, but deep down inside, I’d say North. With their ability to score and their ability to have so many different ways to score, something in there says it’s that. But I’m not taking anything from Norcross. I just think (the North offense vs. the Norcross defense) is the matchup of the game. If Norcross gets out there and rattles (Hayden) Sphire, it could be a long night. But how it goes early could be big, too. If North jumps out on them like the last time, it could be big.