The No. 6 North Gwinnett defense opened the game with a touchdown and closed the game with another touchdown to lead the Bulldogs in a victory over region rival No. 5 Mill Creek.
Bulldog defensive ends Myles Webster and Payne Walker each had fumble returns for touchdowns as North Gwinnett broke away late for a 35-21 win at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium.
“I told our guys from day one that this would be the best team we played. They will be the hardest team we play and they are going to have to punch us in the mouth and we are going to have to keep fighting,” North Gwinnett coach Bill Stewart said. Stewart spent the prior three years as the Mill Creek defensive coordinator.
North Gwinnett (5-1, 2-0) forced three total fumbles against Mill Creek (4-2, 1-1) while Bulldogs quarterback Jimmy Uzura had a career-day throwing for 247 yards and two touchdowns, including what turned out to be the game winning score. Uruza found his fullback Will Hunter for a 12-yard strike with 5:35 remaining in the game to put the Bulldogs up 28-21.
That touchdown was set up by the only fumble that wasn’t returned for a touchdown.
For the second week in a row, Bulldogs’ linebacker Jayden McDonald provided the necessary spark to push his team to victory. Two weeks ago, against Mountain View, McDonald had a pick-six to jumpstart his team. On Friday, the senior sacked Mill Creek quarterback Brady Longenecker twice. The latter time, he forced a fumble on the Hawks’ 12-yard line that was recovered by his teammate Knox Denning
“I was pushed behind him and I just came up and worked my way back from behind,” McDonald said. “I knew when I came from behind he was going to fumble the ball.”
The Bulldogs put the game on ice three plays after the Uruza touchdown, when Mill Creek fumbled a handoff and Walker picked up the football and ran for a 20-yard touchdown.
Defensive end Nicholas Pucciarello blindsided Longenecker and forced a fumble in the first quarter. Fellow defensive end Myles Webster jumped on the football in the end zone and the Bulldogs went up 7-0 less than five minutes into the game.
“The best kind of offense is a good defense,” Uruza said. “We have complete trust in them. No matter the situation, we know our defense is going to cause turnovers and score for us.”
The Hawks never went away behind the legs of running back Uriah Leverette. The senior rushed for two touchdowns and 154 yards on 22 carries. He put the Hawks’ up 14-7 early in the second half with a 29-yard touchdown scamper.
Just a couple plays later, Uruza responded with a bomb to wide receiver Josh Downs. The sophomore got behind the Hawks’ defense on a deep post route and Uruza hit him for an 80-yard touchdown.
“I kinda closed my eyes and threw it,” Uruza laughed. “Josh is an incredible route runner so when he sees that they are playing no safeties over the top, he says ‘coach let me run a route. I am going to get past this man’. He is one of the best receivers I have ever seen in high school football.”
The duo hasn’t yet trademarked “7 to 11” (Uruza is No. 7, while Downs is No. 11) yet, but that plan might be in the works. Downs hauled in seven catches for 156 yards on Friday. The two connected for a couple passes on the Bulldogs’ next drive to set up a Cameron Butler 24-yard touchdown run. That put North Gwinnett up 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
The Hawks tied the game on a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but then the Bulldogs’ defense closed out the game.
7:37- 7-0; recovered fumble in the end zone by Myles Webster
:07 – 7-7; 2-yard touchdown run by Uriah Leverette
9:29- 7-14; 29-yard touchdown run by Uriah Leverette
8:40- 14-14; 80-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Uruza to Josh Downs
5:15- 21-14; 24-yard touchdown run by Cameron Butler
9:21- 21-21; 2-yard touchdown pass from Brady Longenecker to Adrian Jackson
5:35- 28-21; 12-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Uzura to Will Hunter
4:42- 35-21; 20-yard fumble return for touchdown by Payne Walker
QB Brady Longenecker: 8/16 for 79 yards, 1 touchdown
RB Uriah Leverette: 22 carries, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns
RB Rafael Morales: 6 carries, 36 yards
WR Austin Williams: 2 catches, 30 yards
WR Adrian Jackson: 2 catches, 30 yards, 1 touchdown
QB Jimmy Uzura: 14/23, 247 yards, two touchdowns; 6 carries, 48 yards
RB Cameron Butler: 10 carries, 56 yards, 1 touchdown
RB Devin Crosby: 11 carries, 32 yards
WR Josh Downs: 7 catches, 156 yards, 1 touchdown
FB Will Hunter: 2 catches, 26 yards, 1 touchdown