The North Gwinnett Bulldogs,ranked No. 1 in the state, were trailing the Mill Creek Hawks by 19 points with just over six minutes left in the game, but then Hayden Sphire connected with Nate Brown for a touchdown, the fourth of the game for Brown, and the comeback began. By the time the game came to an end the Bulldogs had exploded for 29 points in the final 12 minutes and had come from a 34-14 halftime deficit to defeat the Hawks in a shootout, 50-47.
North Gwinnett (6-0, 4-0) jumped out to a 14-0 lead after running back CJ Leggett threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Scott with 5:54 left in the opening stanza, and then Brown and Sphire teamed up for their first TD pass-and-catch of the game with just under two minutes. Mill Creek (4-3, 2-3) quarterback Daniel David broke a 78-yard run that cut the Bulldog advantage in half, 14-7.
The second quarter was all Mill Creek. It began with David hitting pay-dirt for the second time in the game on a 30-yard run just 1:16 into the quarter. Andrew Sciara then scored from the 1 yard line a couple of minutes later, followed by Carter Governale who scored from 12 yards out. Bryson King then closed out the half with two field goals in the last 2:09, and the intermission came with Mill Creek up by almost three TDs, 34-14.
The third quarter saw a defensive battle that resulted in North Gwinnett scoring seven to chip away at the Mill Creek lead. The teams headed to the final 12 minutes with the Hawks holding a 34-21 lead and seemingly in control.
Mill Creek added some insurance with another Sciara blast from the 1 that pushed the lead to 20 points, 41-21, with 9:40 remaining in the contest. The teams exchanged TDs, and then the Bulldogs rattled off 22 unanswered points in the final 4:39 of the game, including a two-point conversion that accounted for the winning margin, to pull off the big come from behind victory to remain undefeated on the season.
The teams combined for seven turnovers. Mill Creek was +1 in turnover margin despite fumbling three times and losing all three. North Gwinnett had four (3 INTs, I Fumble) turnovers, including Sphire’s third interception of the game that resulted in Mill Creek extending their lead to 20 points in the final quarter.
Head coach Bob Sphire, Hayden’s father, said after the game that he “thought for sure that interception in the second half was the nail in the coffin, but I guess I was the only one (on our team) that thought that.”
Sphire was 15 of 29 for 216 yards passing with four TDs and three INTs, Leggett broke the 100 yard mark with 111 yards on 19 carries, including a TD run of 17 yards, and Brown tallied 122 yards on eight receptions and four TD catches in the North victory. Almonzo Brown only carried the rock once for the Bulldogs, but he broke a 51-yard touchdown burst that brought North to within five of the Hawks with 4:09 to go.
Despite the North comeback, Mill Creek displayed an outstanding ground attack that included David running for 222 yards on 17 carries and two TDs, and Governale totaling 92 yards on 14 attempts as part of a 372 yard rushing night. The Hawks ran the ball 50 times in 59 offensive plays. Daniel, Sciara and Governale each scored three touchdowns in the loss, all on the ground.
The comeback win keeps North Gwinnett at the top of the Class AAAAAA Region 7 standings at 4-0, while Mill Creek is fifth with a 2-3 region mark. The Hawks have played well and established themselves as the best of the Tier 2 teams. Their three region losses have come at the hands of North Gwinnett, Norcross and Peachtree Ridge, currently the Nos.1, 5 and 25 teams in the state. Look for the Hawks to push Collins Hill for a full 48 minutes in the final game of the regular season on November 8.
North Gwinnett travels to Habersham Central this week to play the 0-7, 0-5 Raiders, while Mill Creek will be home against the Duluth Wildcats (1-5, 1-3).
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