Gwinnett’s Region 7-AAAAAA top football teams were stuck in a circle. North Gwinnett had beaten Norcross; Norcross had beaten Collins Hiil; and Collins Hill had beaten North Gwinnett. So who would take first place in the region?
To settle this three-way tie for first place, officials conducted a coin flip, and unfortunately for North Gwinnett’s football team, North Gwinnett came out of the tie in third place, so they will travel the most difficult road to the state championship. North Gwinnett’s 2013 football season commemorated their 8th consecutive double-digit winning season and their eighth season under Coach Bob Sphire.
For the first round of the state playoffs, North Gwinnett faced Miltion at Milton High School in Milton, GA last Friday, November 15th. Since North Gwinnett was victorious against Milton (34-10), they played Archer High School this past Friday, November 22nd at the Archer Tiger Stadium in Lawrenceville. GA. Although Archer has only had a varsity football program for four years, they entered the game against North Gwinnett as an undefeated team and region champions. In the first round of the state football playoffs the previous Friday, Archer defeated North Forsyth with a score of 34-7.
After kick-off began at 7:30 Friday night, the Archer tigers were the first to score on their first drive of the game with an 18-yard touchdown pass. However, North Gwinnett later tied up the score. With 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter, North Gwinnett’s Dante Sawyer threw a four-yard pass to Junior Daniel Imatorbhebhe. Once Michael D’Angola scored the extra point, the score was tied 7-7.
Reluctant to let North Gwinnett get the upper hand, Archer scored twice in the second quarter, making the score 20-7. As Archer was driving the ball down the field again, North Gwinnett Junior Parker Sechrest intercepted the ball and ran it down the field to the 30-yard line. Then, Archer received a ten-yard penalty, bringing North Gwinnett even closer to the end zone. At thirty-seconds left in the quarter, Senior Caleb Scott received a 22-yard pass and scored a touchdown for North Gwinnett. Once the extra point was scored, Archer was still leading North Gwinnett 20-14 at halftime.
Once play resumed in the second half, North Gwinnett scored their third touchdown and D’Angola kicked the extra point, making the score 21-20 North Gwinnett. An onside kick by North Gwinnett in the kickoff allowed North Gwinnett to recover the ball. After working their way down the field, North Gwinnett scored a field goal at about 9 minutes left in the third quarter. After Archer fumbled the ball with less than three minutes left in the third quarter, North Gwinnett recovered the ball and scored a touchdown by a pass to Senior Caleb Scott. As Scott celebrates with his teammates, the officials call a penalty against North Gwinnett for unsportsmanlike conduct; however, the momentum doesn’t completely shift in Archer’s favor until D’Angola scores the extra point.
With the score 31-20 North Gwinnett and 45 seconds left in the third quarter, Archer scored a touchdown but missed the two point conversion attempt, leaving the score 31-26. At this point, only five points separated North Gwinnett and Archer; if Archer could score one touchdown and keep North from scoring, Archer would remain undefeated.
So they did. At 7:37 left in the last quarter, Archer scored another touchdown. Trying to further their lead, Archer attempted a two point conversion but did not succeed. One point behind Archer at 31-32, North Gwinnett slowly worked their way down the field, keeping the clock in mind. With 2:24 left in the game and 4th & 1, North Gwinnett decided to try a field goal to regain their lead over Archer. D’Angola steps up to the line. The ball was hiked. The ball was set, and D’Angola missed the kick!
The Archer Tigers in the stands went wild, but somehow, amiss the pressure, the noise, and all the distractions, North Gwinnett maintained their focus. With stellar defense, North Gwinnett managed to stop Archer’s offense and force them to punt to North Gwinnett. From the punt, North Gwinnett recovered the ball and stopped just at the 49-yard line with about two minutes left in the game and no time-outs.
Pass by pass, run by run, North Gwinnett steadily worked its way down the field. Finally, North Gwinnett reached the eleventh yard line. The entire stadium glanced at the clock: seven seconds left. Coach Sphire deployed the field goal team onto the field. D’Angola readied himself for the most important kick of the game, and possibly even the most important kick of the season. The snap. Then, the set up. Then, the kick.
AND THE GOAL!
The North Gwinnett bulldogs defeated the previously undefeated Archer Tigers. Therefore, North Gwinnett will advance to the third round of state playoffs next Friday, November 29th, against Hillgrove.
More state football standings and scores for 6A schools can be found here: http://ghsa.net/2013-2014-ghsa-class-aaaaaa-state-football-championship-bracket .