NORCROSS – The No. 1-ranked North Gwinnett Bulldogs needed something extra if they were going to get past their rival, No. 6-ranked Norcross. They found it in receiver Nate Brown.
Brown caught four touchdowns and 10 passes for 179 yards as the Bulldogs dominated the second half en route to a 36-17 victory in a crucial Region 7-AAAAAA game.
Brown used his speed to create separation for wide open touchdown catches for the Bulldogs (3-0), and the Blue Devils (1-2) never adjusted, oftentimes leaving him in single coverage. North Gwinnett quarterback Hayden Sphire finished 19 of 30 with 271 yards and the four touchdowns to Brown.
Norcross opened the game on a 14-0 run and led 17-10 at halftime. As effective as Brown was, the Bulldogs defense also played a big role, shutting out the Blue Devils in the second half. The Bulldogs defense – led by top recruit Dante Sawyer – effectively pressured Blue Devils quarterback A.J. Bush, forcing him out of the pocket to make ill-advised passes. Bush finished 14 of 26 with an interception and touchdown pass.
North Gwinnett began to seize momentum in the second half. After a Norcross special teams player ran into Caleb Scott as Scott was fielding a punt, the Bulldogs got the ball on Norcross’ 32 and scored on the first play with Brown’s second touchdown reception of the game. Three minutes later, Brown caught a 29-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 22-17 lead. Both Brown touchdowns ended with failed two-point conversions.
The Bulldogs effectively put the game away while sucking the life out of Norcross and its fans on the Bulldogs’ next possession. On third-and-20, North Gwinnett ran a double reverse that ended with Scott catching a 35-yard touchdown pass from receiver Almonzo Brown. North Gwinnett took a 29-17 lead with 11:28 remaining and never looked back.
This matchup served as the region opener for both teams and has carried region champion implications. The winner has gone on to take 7-AAAAAA six of the last seven years. The Bulldogs have now won five of the last six in the series.
With the win, the Bulldogs are the first AAAAAA team to win while holding the No. 1 ranking. Norcross and Colquitt County each previously held the top spot.
The Blue Devils will travel to face Duluth next week, while the Bulldogs host Meadowcreek.
North Gwinnett 0 10 12 14 – 36
Norcross 7 10 0 0 – 17
N – Josh Boyd 19 run (Blake Bingham kick)
N – Christopher Herndon 32 pass from A.J. Bush (Bingham kick)
NG – Nate Brown 15 pass from Hayden Sphire (Michael D’Angola kick)
NG – D’Angola 28 FG
N – Bingham 26 FG
NG – Brown 32 pass from Sphire (conversion failed)
NG – Brown 29 pass from Sphire (conversion failed)
NG – Caleb Scott 35 pass from Almonzo Brown (D’Angola kick)
NG – Brown 29 pass (D’Angola kick)
Follow Adam Krohn @AdamKrohnAJC.