By Robert Haddocks
With their big-play weapons, South Gwinnett torched Milton for four first-half touchdowns, but was held scoreless with only one first down in the second. But the Comets defense was up to the task and held off a rally by Milton to win 27-20 and advance to the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
No. 2 seed South Gwinnett (9-2) will travel to No. 1 Norcross (11-0) Friday.
Down seven points with 1:32 left, Milton mounted a drive, but with 22 seconds left on first down at the Comets 35, Reggie Carter sacked quarterback A.J. Bush to preserve the victory. The Georgia-bound linebacker was all over the field and came up with several stops, none bigger than his last.
“Big time players make big time plays in big games,” South Gwinnett coach John Small said. “He always seems to come up big at the right time.”
Carter was not alone. South Gwinnett was considerably smaller than the Eagles, whose starting offensive line averages 285 pounds, but the Comets more than held their own, limiting Ole Miss recruit Peyton Barber to just 35 yards in the first half. Marquis Parker, Mason Hart and Devonte Lawrence-Spivey wrapped up the Eagles, who were unable to throw for most of the game.
South Gwinnett had no such problems. Jordan Ramey completed 13 of 18 passes for 238 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to Coray Keel, which gave the Comets a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. Keel, Bernard Morrison, Josh Boyd, Tyrone Atchison and Travon Davis made plays for the Comets, who had scored 42 points in five of their previous ten games. Morrison’s touchdown, a four-yard run in the closing seconds of the first half, proved to be the game winner. An 18-yard touchdown catch by Eric Abbott had trimmed South’s lead to 20-10 with less than a minute. With catches by Keel and Atchison, South quickly drove down the field leading to Morrison’s score and a 27-10 halftime lead..
“That TD before the half was huge,” said Small, who advances to the second round for the second time in three years.
Milton (7-4) turned to its running game and Barber in the second half and big, nimble back responded with 92 yards on 15 carries to finish with a game-high 127 yards. Late in the fourth quarter, after South muffed a punt on its own 10-yard line, Milton had a first-and-goal, but Barber was stuffed on three straight plays, with Anthony Beck stopping a third-down dive by Barber.
“The defense stepped up and that’s what you’ve got to have in the playoffs,” Small said. “They bowed their necks and held them to a field goal. They fought the whole time and scrapped.”
South Gwinnett took a 7-0 lead on a Josh Boyd two-yard run. The Comets wasted little time on their next scoring drive. Ramey threw a quick sideline pass to Keel and the 6’1, 175-pound receiver did the rest, sidestepping a defender and racing in for the 80-yard score.
A 48-yard kickoff return by Morrison set up South’s first touchdown and a 55-yard kickoff return by Cedric Asseh led to its third score. Travon Davis ran up the middle and twisted his way into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown to give South a 20-3 lead at 9:02 of the second period.
SOUTH GWINNETT – 14 – 13 – 0 – 0 – 27
MILTON – 0 – 7 – 3 – 10 – 20
SG – Josh Boyd 2 run (Mattias Yonas kick)
SG – Coray Keel 80 pass from Jordan Ramey (Yonas kick)
M – Christopher Mills 30 FG
SG – Travon Davis 28 run (kick missed)
M – Eric Abbott (Mills kick)
SG – Bernard Morrison 4 run (Yonas kick)
M – A.J. Bush 1 run (Mills kick)
M – Mills 20 FG