McEachern’s reign as the top-ranked team in Class AAAAAA will be a short one.
North Gwinnett drove 68 yards in 1:39 and scored the game-winning points on a 9-yard pass from John Urzua to Kyle Knudsen with nine seconds remaining for a 52-49 victory over the Indians in the final game of the season-opening Corky Kell Classic on Saturday at McEachern.
It was the seventh touchdown pass of the night for Urzua, who was making his debut as the Bulldogs’ full-time starting quarterback after the graduation of Hayden Sphire. Urzua completed 38 of 48 passes for 490 yards, many of which came on short, quick strikes.
But Urzua was not the only player with eye-popping stats in the game, which did not begin until 10:09 p.m. and ended at about 1:30 Sunday morning. In addition to the 101 total points, the teams combined for 1,046 yards (576-470 in favor of North Gwinnett).
Josh Imatorbhebhe caught eight passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs. Daniel Imatorbhebhe had 10 catches for 73 yards and two scores, and Knudsen finished with eight receptions for 132 yards and the winning touchdown.
For McEachern, quarterback Bailey Hockman was 11-for-27 passing for 302 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter as the Indians rallied from a 38-28 deficit. Taj Griffin rushed 22 times for 150 yards and three first-quarter scores before leaving the game in the final two minutes after suffering what appeared to be a knee injury while trying to make a tackle on McEachern’s final punt. Receivers T.J. Rahming (five catches, 175 yards) and Tyler Smith (5-121) each had two touchdown catches.
This was McEachern’s second consecutive loss to North Gwinnett, which ended the Indians’ 2013 season with a 27-21 victory in the Class AAAAAA semifinals. In that game, North Gwinnett was somewhat in control in the second half. This time it was not.
The lead changed hands seven times on Saturday, including four in the final seven minutes. McEachern took a 42-38 lead with 6:38 to play on a 74-yard touchdown pass from Hockman to Rahming, but the Bulldogs answered a minute and a half later on a 29-yard TD pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe. McEachern reclaimed the lead at 49-45 with 3:38 to play on Smith’s 22-yard touchdown reception. The teams then exchanged punts, setting up North Gwinnett’s winning drive.
North Gwinnett did not lead until six second remained in the first half. Facing a fourth-and-21 at the McEachern 40 with 15 seconds to play in the second quarter, Urzua threw a 10-yard pass to Knudsen, who lateralled to Jason Imatorbhebhe, who then ran the final 30 yards for a touchdown. Brad Harvey’s extra point put North Gwinnett in the lead 22-21.
McEachern scored on its first three possessions, which ended with touchdown runs by Griffin of 11, 15 and 25 yards.
North Gwinnett – 7-15-16-14 – 52
McEachern – 21-0-7-21 – 49
M – Taj Griffin 11 run (Cesar Dominguez kick)
N – Josh Imatorbhebhe 18 pass from John Urzua (Brad Harvey kick)
M – Griffin 15 run (Dominguez kick)
M – Griffin 25 run (Dominguez kick)
N – Almonzo Brown 5 pass from Urzua (Harold Johnson pass from Andy Summers)
N – J. Imatorbhebhe 30 pass from Urzua (Harvey kick)
M – T.J. Rahming 35 pass from Bailey Hockman (Dominguez kick)
N – Safety (fumble rolled out back of end zone)
N – Daniel Imatorbhebhe 7 pass from Urzua (Harvey kick)
N – D. Imatorbhebhe 4 pass from Urzua (Harvey kick)
M – Tyler Smith 72 pass from Hockman (Dominguez kick)
M – Rahming 74 pass from Hockman (Dominguez kick)
N – J. Imatorbhebhe 29 pass from Urzua (Harvey kick)
M – Smith 22 pass from Hockman (Dominguez kick)
N – Kyle Knudsen 9 pass from Urzua (Harvey kick)