North Gwinnett tests its confidence against Wekiva, Florida’s 8A No. 1 team

North Gwinnett’s Devin Crosby (31) runs against Brookwood during the Corky Kell Classic Saturday at Mercedes Benz Stadium. (Photo: Dale Zanine)

The North Gwinnett football team face perhaps the most-proven opponent of any of Gwinnett County’s matchups on Saturday at Milton High School.

The Bulldogs close out the 2018 Atlanta Freedom Bowl with Florida’s consensus No. 1 team in Class AAAAAAAA, Wekiva High School.

The Freedom Bowl features six games between 11 of the top high school programs in the U.S. and one from Canada. Milton will host two games Friday and four more Saturday with North Gwinnett and Wekiva scheduled for 8:30 p.m. While Georgia teams will be showcased both days, the Bulldogs and Milton Trojans are the only two Georgia teams featured in the event. Proceeds from the showcase benefit wounded soldiers and military families.

The 2018 edition is the inaugural event, and North Gwinett is two full weeks removed from a different showcase in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Corky Kell Classic.

“I felt like our kids played really hard,” North head coach Bill Stewart said of his team’s win over Brookwood in Week 1. “In that first game, you’re going to make mistakes. So you’re looking to go out and execute as well as possible, but they also played really hard.”

Wekiva visits the Atlanta suburbs from another suburb, just north of Orlando, Fla. Its defense is a murderer’s row of Division I talent. Linebacker Rian Davis is a Georgia commit and Tyler Davis is a four-star senior defensive tackle with interest from Florida State and Ohio State. The defensive backfield is highlighted by safety and Pittsburgh commit Brandon Hill and Florida State commit Renardo Green at corner. Also at defensive tackle is three-star Virginia Tech commit Norell Pollard.

“They’re big and strong and the No. 1 team in Florida’s Class (AAAAAAAA). … We have our work cut out for us,” Stewart said.

North also has its own confidence, which comes from being unbeaten since Aug. 19, 2017. In his second year as head coach, Stewart wants to test that confidence and challenge the Bulldogs early in the season.

The No. 3 Bulldogs still have two more teams currently ranked in Class AAAAAAA’s top 10 left on the schedule. Perhaps the defending state champions’ biggest non-region test is this Saturday.

“I think as far as games like this go, we feel like we can play with anybody,” Stewart said. “I think it’s fun for our guys to get out and compete against different folks, which is why we arranged the game.”

The Bulldogs demonstrated senior Iowa commit Tyler Goodson and junior running back Devin Crosby are two of North Gwinnett’s most threatening offensive weapons, behind a mostly experienced offensive line. But the Bulldogs’ defense also challenged Brookwood in Week 1. While Brookwood gained a total of 223 offensive yards, the Bulldogs forced Brookwood to punt on six of its eight offensive drives in the first half. Two turnovers on downs and two fumbles were the end results of four of Brookwood’s five second-half drives.

That evidence and Wekiva’s highly touted talent make for an intriguing defensive matchup Saturday. Coming off a bye week, Stewart said North remains healthy as it tries to continue that defensive success.

NORTH GWINNETT BULLDOGS (6-AAAAAA)

Coach: Bill Stewart

Record: 1-0

Last week: Had a bye

WEKIVA MUSTANGS (4-AAAAAAAA)

Coach: Rich Bedesem

Record: 1-0

Last week: Beat Jones 17-3

Last meeting: First meeting

Location: Milton High School

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