North Gwinnett (13-1) won a back and forth battle with traditional Cobb County powerhouse McEachern (11-3) on Friday night by a 27-21 count to advance to the Class-AAAAAA state championship at the Georgia Dome next Saturday night. The Bulldogs will face Region-7 rival and defending state champion Norcross in search of their first state title. It marks the first time since 2002 that both teams in the finals are from the same region.
Related: Norcross advances to 6-A title game
North Gwinnett-27 McEachern-21
North Gwinnett took the opening kickoff and promptly turned the ball over, the first of three in the first half, when quarterback Hayden Sphire threw into coverage and was picked off by Rahmoi Parsons on the Bulldogs first play from scrimmage. Parsons returned the ball to the North 27-yard line and McEachern senior QB Ty Clemons, who shared time with freshman Bailey Hockman, connected with T.J. Rahming on a fade to the right corner of the end zone on their first play from scrimmage to give the home team n early 7-0 advantage.
The C.J. Leggett show began on the Bulldogs second possession. The senior broke a 66-yard run on the second snap, and then finished off the 80-yard drive with a 2-yard burst that evened the score at 7-7 with 9:07 to go in the opening stanza.
McEachern and North both squandered scoring opportunities in the first half. The Bulldogs had three turnovers in the first 24 minutes; including a fumble that Glenn Frazier recovered at the Indians 21 to end a drive. The Indians had two critical second quarter penalties, the first of which took a touchdown off the board when a holding call erased a 24-yard TD pass from Clemons to Malik Williams, and then as the first half was winding down McEachern seemed to have picked up a first down on a fake punt, only to have it called back due to a false start.
The Indians then punted and North took possession of the ball on the McEachern 40 after a 13 yard effort.
The Bulldogs began the drive with 2:07 to go in the opening half and drove the ball to the Indian 2, where they faced a first and goal with 14 ticks of the clock left. Sphire rolled out to his right and then threw back across his body, something QBs are taught never to do, and Nate Brown came down with the ball at the back of the end zone to give North a 14-7 lead heading into the intermission.
A replay of the catch showed that Brown came down with his foot on the line, but there is no replay in high school ball so the score counted.
After a nearly hour long weather delay as a result of lightening, McEachern took the second half kick and regained the momentum with a 3:47 drive that ended when Hockman found Trey Scott on a fourth down, 38-yard scoring strike that evened the score at 14 all.
After the teams traded interceptions, Christian Ford for the Indians and Tony Bradford for the Bulldogs, North took possession at their own 47. Leggett took the rock and broke off another long run, this one for 53 yards that put the Bulldogs on top 21-14 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
Kicker Michael D’Angola was good on fourth quarter field goals of 46 and 25 yards to extend the North lead to 27-14 with just 3:15 left in the game.
McEachern continued to battle and pulled back to within six when Hockman and Artise Clark connected on a 7-yard TD pass just 42 seconds later to make the score 27-21.
Knowing that they had not been able to stop Leggett all night, the Indians attempted an onside kick that North recovered. The Bulldogs then ran the clock down to 15 seconds before having to punt the ball back to McEachern.
The Indians ran out of time when Rahming was unable to get out of bounds short of a first down with no time outs remaining and the clock ran out.
It is an interesting side note that both Sphire and Hockman are the sons of the head coaches.
McEachern: Ty Clemons totaled 49 yards on seven carries.
North Gwinnett: C.J. Leggett racked up 287 yards on 36 carries.
McEachern: Bailey Hockman was 12-of-14 for 161 yards and an interception while sharing duties with Clemons.
North Gwinnett: Hayden Sphire was 9-of-19 for 54 yards and was picked off twice.
McEachern: T.J. Rahming had seven receptions for 50 yards, while Trey Scott made four grabs for 70 yards.
North Gwinnett: Caleb Scott had four catches for 49 yards.
Watch for the Norcross, North Gwinnett Game Preview on Thursday
After a 3-0 week in the semifinals, Examiner is now 86-22 for the season in game projections and 23-5 in the playoffs.
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