The Camden County High School football team trailed Brunswick High School by nine points late in Saturday’s game.
There was less than one minute left in the game, almost certain doom for Camden’s previously run-centric offense, but head coach Bob Sphire’s spread offense is designed to span the field in a matter of minutes. Perhaps, the seasoned coach said, some fans in attendance had declared the game a loss, but Sphire was going to push Sean Pender and the Pirates until the final seconds.
An interception thwarted the Wildcats’ comeback, and Brunswick scored on the ensuing drive to clinch a 43-27 win. The Wildcats could have run out the clock and saved face with a nine-point loss, but Sphire prefers to see the bigger picture.
“I don’t want to lose any ball games, but I want us to learn how to compete the way (Camden County) used to compete,” Sphire said.
It took perhaps one-and-a-half quarters for the Wildcats to settle into Saturday’s game, but once they did, the Wildcats scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to cut Brunswick’s lead to 22-20. If not for a botched extra point that turned into a two-point conversion on Brunswick’s first touchdown, Sphire said the Wildcats could have put even more pressure on the Pirates, and perhaps forced a different outcome.
His takeaway from Saturday’s game — for which the Wildcats had two days to prepare — is that his team is held back by self-inflicted wounds.
“We’ve got to become mentally tougher,” Sphire said. “We’re making too many mistakes to hurt ourselves, and there’s too much lack of focus in the details. We challenged them to look at the whole body of work … looking at the times we’ve become our own enemy.”
Camden County’s next opponent is also the Wildcats’ first road trip, McEachern High School in Powder Springs.
The Indians are a familiar opponent to Sphire, not only from his career at North Gwinnett but also when he was a high school coach in Kentucky. McEachern head coach Kyle Hockman is the former head coach at Ryle High School in Kentucky, and Sphire met him while coaching at Lexington Catholic.
McEachern and North Gwinnett played in some intense games, including the 2013 state semifinal game when North Gwinnett advanced to play Norcross. North Gwinnett beat McEachern the following season in the Corky Kell classic, 52-49, when the Bulldogs executed a fake spike for a touchdown to win the game.
Sphire, who recalls beating Hockman’s rebuilding program at Ryles, said his perspective is inverted now that he is the head coach of a rebuilding program, facing an established, No. 9-ranked team in Class 7A.
When he thinks back to current state of Camden County’s program, he thinks back to Bear Bryant’s Alabama football teams. University of Kentucky used to dread Bryant’s Crimson Tide, which won or placed second in the Southeastern Conference each season from 1961 to 1967. But Alabama finished eighth and seventh in 1969 and 1970, respectively. Sphire sees similarities between his Wildcats and those Alabama teams.
“Then, Kentucky looked forward to playing (Alabama),” Sphire said. “Right now the Camden County program is dealing with that. I think we’re in that phase where everybody is trying to get a handle of an honest assessment of where we are.”
The Wildcats will break up the long road trip to Powder Springs over two days. The Wildcats will stay in a hotel on Thursday night, walk through Friday morning and head to McEachern early that afternoon.
McEachern is 2-2 through its ambitious schedule, including losses to Mill Creek and Grayson. The Wildcats (2-2) and Indians kick off at 7:30 p.m.