North Gwinnett has had more issues than a few during the off-season. From graduation to assistant coaches departing to sub-par or up and down 7 on 7 showings to a heated quarterback battle during preseason camp, the Bulldogs still have the moxie and resolve to find ways to win football games and it showed on Saturday.
The Bulldogs would force Colquitt to punt on its opening possession only to muff the punt which Colquitt recovered and cashed in for three points as Roberto Vega knocked in a long 43-yard field goal for the early 3-0 lead.
A staple of North Gwinnett the past few seasons has been its defense and boy would it rise to the occasion today. Andrew Westbrook would pick up a fumble and return it 30 yards for a touchdown giving North Gwinnett a 7-3 advantage at the end of one period of action.
Colquitt would then stall on its opening second quarter drive and punt North Gwinnett into a hole at the 2 yard line. On the first play after the punt O’Shay Williams sacked North Gwinnett’s number two quarterback Hayden Sphire, son of head coach Bob Sphire, in the end zone for a safety cutting the Bulldog lead to 7-5. North Gwinnett and Colquitt traded interceptions in the final 4:15 of the first half for a baseball looking 7-5 halftime score ending a penalty filled first half. At one point Colquitt was first down and 45 after a series of markers going against them.
The third quarter continued to be a defensive struggle until Colquitt added a 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the 3rd for an 8-7 lead. That lead would be short-lived as Donnie Miles, who had not been used on offense much earlier in the first half, went 77 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the quarter give North Gwinnett the 13-8 lead going into the fourth.
Colquitt County would not take that lightly and answered to open the fourth going 6 plays and 77 yards with Deonte McClain rushing in for a 5 yard touchdown for a 14-13 lead after the failed extra point.
North Gwinnett would later have a nice drive bog down and end on downs with 5:19 left in the game. Colquitt did not do much with it after that and would face 3rd down and 17 when Cole Seagraves was flagged for intentional grounding forcing a punt that would give North Gwinnett excellent field position after Caleb Scott returned it 19 yards to the Colquitt 31 with 3:31 left.
Sphire went back to Miles but the result was far different as Miles put the ball on the ground on 3rd down and 6 and Colquitt’s Brandon Key recovered it 2:05 to play. North Gwinnett’s defense again would stand firm forcing a three-and-out getting the ball back on their own 46 with 1:05 left needing only a field goal and they got it.
Michael Haynes would then shift into “ballplayer’ mode hitting passes of 10 and 11 yards and then scramble 22 yards for a first down. After being sacked on the next play and time winding down Sphire rushed his field goal unit on the field on third down. Michael D’Angola and the field goal unit would do the rest as D’Angola nailed his first varsity level field goal, a 33-yarder as time expired to lift North Gwinnett to the 16-14 win.
“Michael has been a working project…through his career he has missed off and on and no problem with but now he is really coming into his own and a game like this obviously will hopefully elevate him that much more because what a great last drive and he really played well the whole game”, Bulldog head coach Bob Sphire said about his starting quarterback.
When asked what got it done for his team, North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire responded with, “High school football, the spirit of high school football, you never know whats going to happen with kids like this and our kids know how to compete. There is nothing better than high school football, it brings out character, it reveals lack of character it does all of those things with these kids and both teams I though exhibited great character”.
Through all the coaching departures Sphire still lauded his defensive coordinator Mo Dixon.
“I have a great defensive coordinator in Mo Dixon and he has really brought those kids along and what they did defensively tonight gave us a chance to win this football game”, Sphire said
North Gwinnett will resume action next Saturday as they host the National High School Gridiron Challenge. North Gwinnett will face A.C. Flora (SC) in the night-cap after Valdosta and North Augusta (SC) play at noon followed by Stephenson tangling with Pensacola Pine Forest (FL) (Update this game was cancelled due to Hurricane Issac). North Gwinnett defeated Stephenson, a school known to churn out a high volume of Division-1 level recruits, in a scrimmage contest last week 14-13.