By Michael Alpert
For the AJC
Fourth-ranked North Gwinnett’s quick-strike second quarter keyed its 49-19 win over visiting Johns Creek in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The Bulldogs’ victory in their ninth consecutive season in the playoffs advanced them to face Grayson in next week’s second round, where their playoff run ended last year against against Colquitt County.
Increasingly, coach Bob Sphire senses his Bulldogs can rival their best-ever season of 2007, when they reached the AAAAA final against Lowndes.
“These kids know the deal,” said Sphire, who has coached North to at least the quarterfinals four times in his seven seasons. “They know what it takes to win at this point in the season.”
The Gladiators (8-3) matched North’s first-quarter touchdown with one early in the second, but couldn’t stop the Bulldogs (9-1) from scoring on their first three possessions of the second quarter — all on passes — and turning a 7-7 tie into a 28-7 halftime advantage they never relinquished.
Michael Haynes began North’s onslaught with an 8-yard TD pass to Caleb Scott 5:56 before halftime, then targeted Nate Brown from 20 with 3:01 before intermission. Then, after the Gladiators went four and out, the Bulldogs needed just one snap, Haynes’ 76 yard pass to Russell King, to lead 28-7 with 1:33 left in the half.
Haynes finished with 250 yards and a fourth TD pass to Nick Andryusky, before second-string quarterback Hayden Sphire chipped in scoring tosses to Caleb Scott and Daniel Imatorbhebhe for North’s biggest advantage, 49-7, early in the fourth quarter.
The Gladiators, playing in the postseason for only a second time, drew within the final margin on Jack Deweese’s 9-yard scoring pass to Bradon Fortin and Sam Arrington’s 46-yard interception return.
Sphire said he’s mildly surprised by his team’s record given its strength of schedule, but admires its resilience with an eighth win since its lone 31-21 loss to Norcross in Game 3.
“This is their reward for all their hard work during the regular season and all the little things that got them to this point,” he said.
NORTH GWINNETT 49, JOHNS CREEK 19
Johns Creek: 0 7 0 12 – 19
North Gwinnett: 7 21 7 14 – 49
NG — Cam Lewis 2 run (Michael D’Angola kick)
JC — Skye Overton 3 run (Kyle Fowler kick)
NG — Caleb Scott 8 pass from Michael Haynes (D’Angola kick)
NG — Nate Brown 20 pass from Haynes (D’Angola kick)
NG — Russell King 76 pass from Haynes (D’Angola kick)
NG — Nick Andryusky 3 pass from Haynes (D’Angola kick)
NG — Caleb Scott 10 pass from Hayden Sphire (D’Angola kick)
NG — Daniel Imatorbhebhe 5 pass from Sphire (D’Angola kick)
JC — Bradon Fortin 9 pass from Jack Deweese (kick failed)
JC — Sam Arrington 46 interception return (pass failed)