With a playoff berth on the line and a pair of school history points to make, Northgate scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to check off all three boxes.
Kyle McLaren hit Devontae Johnson with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 2:24 left to complete the comeback for the Vikings, who beat visiting Langston Hughes 21-20 to secure a playoff spot in Region 5-AAAAAA.
The win clinched a fourth straight winning season for the Vikings (6-3, 5-2), a first for the Coweta County school, and sent them to the state playoffs for the third straight year, also a school first, according to Northgate coach Kelsey Dalrymple.
The winning touchdown was inspired by a little bit of personal history between McLaren and Johnson, who paired up for similar plays in their days at Madras Middle School. It was not, however, the first thought for Dalrymple, who called his last timeout with 2:33 left to weigh his options.
“I knew that was kind of the ball game there,” Dalrymple said. “When you get down to crunch time, you put the ball in playmakers’ hands. Kyle and Devonte have been in big ballgames, so I said let’s get the ball to the guy and let him make a play.”
Johnson scooted into the right flat and took a position in front of the Langston Hughes cornerback, and McLaren lobbed it to him.
“We knew he could go up there and get it,” McLaren said. “He’s our biggest guy. I just took one step and threw it up there, and let him do the work.”
Langston Hughes (7-3, 6-3) twice led by 13 points and turned away a pair of Northgate scoring opportunities over the first three quarters, a missed field goal on the game’s first drive and a thwarted fourth down and goal late in the second period.
The Vikings turned a pair of miscues into fourth-quarter touchdowns.
McLaren, who finished with 148 passing yards, scored on a 10-yard run on the first play of the fourth period, capping 43-yard drive set up by teammate Connor Fortner’s interception.
Hughes answered with a 7-play, 75-yard drive, scoring on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Vaughan to Nae’Saan Dickerson to push the lead to 20-7.
Northgate went 69 yards in nine plays and pulled within six points on McLaren’s 1-yard run with 5:25 left.
Then the Northgate defense went to work, pushing the visiting Panthers backward two times in three plays to force a punt. Hughes punter Jordan Andrade, who earlier in the game cranked a 66-yarder, dropped the snap and fell on the ball at the Panther 6-yard line, giving Northgate first and goal with 3:51 left.
After two plays netted 12 yards in losses, McLaren scrambled for three yards to set up the fourth-down play and the winning score.
“I had one job to do. That was to go catch the ball, and I did it,” said Johnson.
Nick Carter rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries for Northgate, and McLaren added 48 yards on 14 carries to go with his passing total. In addition to his interception, Fortner caught five passes for 74 yards.
T.J. Portress rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown for the Langston Hughes (7-3, 6-3). Christian Royston added 76 yards on 11 carries.
Langston Hughes 7 0 6 7 – 20
Northgate 0 0 0 21 – 21
LH – T.J. Portress 22 run (Adrian Strain kick)
LH – Caleb Vaughan 1 run (kick blocked)
N – Kyle McLaren 10 run (Kade Loggins kick)
LH – Vaughan 43 pass to Nae’Sann Dickerson (Strain kick)
N – McLaren 1 run (Loggins kick)
N – McLaren 14 pass to Devontae Johnson (Loggins kick)