South Gwinnett quarterback Seth Johnston came up with the big plays when they mattered most and helped the Comets to a 17-13 win over North Gwinnett in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs on Friday.
Johnston completed 9 of 17 passes for 73 yards, but did most of the damage with his feet. The senior ran 17 times for 164 yards and scored two touchdowns. Plus, he engineered a time-consuming fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a field goal and put North Gwinnett in a position of needing a touchdown rather a field goal to win the game.
“He’s just a competitor,” South Gwinnett coach John Small said. “Our staff has a lot of faith in him, our team has a lot of faith in him and he made plays tonight. A lot of kids made plays tonight.”
South Gwinnett (9-2) advances to the second round for the first time since 2012. The Comets will play at Westlake, a 24-23 winner over Etowah, in the second round.
North Gwinnett (6-5) was led by quarterback Cade Fortin, who was harassed by the aggressive South Gwinnett defense all night and was sacked once. Fortin completed 12 of 27 for 186 yards and one touchdown. Fortin rushed nine times for 67 yards.
North Gwinnett’s Ryan Lovelace carried 16 times for 79 yards. Receiver L.J. Fisher caught six passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.
“Our team played all four quarters,” Small said.
North Gwinnett scored first, driving to the 5 before having things short-circuited by a pair of penalties. The Bulldogs settled for a 28-yard field goal from Zaniel Phillips.
South Gwinnett responded with an 83-yard touchdown drive, which was sparked by a 20-yard pass from Johnston to Trevor Ward and a personal foul. The score came on a 38-yard keeper by quarterback Johnston.
Johnston did it again the second period, scoring on a 52-yard keeper that put the Comets ahead 14-3 with 11:34 remaining in the half.
North Gwinnett missed a 42-yard field goal, but was able to tack on a touchdown with 56 seconds left. Fortin hit Fisher over the middle for a 22-yard score and the Bulldogs trailed 14-10 at the half.
The Bulldogs pulled to within 14-13 when Phillips kicked a 22-yard field goal with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
It appeared North Gwinnett had taken the lead midway in the fourth quarter. Javonni Cunningham fielded a punt and darted into the end zone for a 60-yard return. But the Bulldogs were flagged for an illegal block and could not capitalize. The Bulldogs were forced to punt and kicked it into the end zone, allowing South Gwinnett to start at the 20.
The Comets then drove downfield in 10 plays and Dawson Newman kicked a 24-yard field goal with 1:50 left to ice the game.