TIFTON - Ryan McDaniel was inconsolable. Mikey Tamburo limped through the handshake line after the game and looked like he had just come out a war zone.
It was a bitter, and completely bizarre end to the North Gwinnett season on Friday night in a 13-0 loss at Tift County in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Tift (12-1) advances to the semifinals at the Georgia Dome, while the Bulldogs' record-breaking season ends at 11-2.
Tamburo, who went over 2,000 yards passing for the season, was battered and bruised all night and McDaniel, the county's leading receiver, was held to just one catch for minus-7 yards in the 13-point defeat.
For the game, the high-flying Bulldogs were held to 74 yards of total offense and zero first downs in the second half.
"They took away a lot of things we like to do," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "They did a good job on our running game and on the corners ... I just hate it for these (seniors) to come down here and face as much adversity as they had to face. And I'll leave it at that."
Sphire wouldn't talk about the officiating on Friday night, but fans from both sides would definitely agree - it wasn't very good.
There were numerous calls, both ways, that left coaches and players shaking their heads. On top of the questionable calls, it seemed like every penalty in the game, and there were 15 total, seemed to spark a lengthy debate. One delay took almost 10 minutes and another took over five. The game itself took almost 2 hours and 50 minutes to play.
And it was 2 hours and 50 minutes that was dominated by the defenses.
"Our defense played its guts out," Sphire said of a unit that allowed just 214 yards of total offense and forced two turnovers.
But the Tift defense was even better.
North had six possessions in the second half. Three were three and out and three ended in turnovers.
"It was an unbelievable effort by our defense," Tift head coach Jay Walls said. "That's been our strength all year. And we relied on our defense, we told them to stop the run and get on No. 9 (Tamburo)."
And they did just that. They sacked the sophomore QB six times on the day and forced two interceptions.
Tift senior QB Sean Baxley didn't fare much better - he was sacked four times himself - but he made a play when it counted.
On third-and-26 from the North 38-yard line late in the third quarter, Baxley hit Marqus King on a post pattern in the end zone, just out of the reach of North safety Jim Moreland, for the game's first touchdown.
And the Bulldogs could never respond. North's deepest penetration in the second half was its own 26-yard line. The Bulldogs also had four turnovers in the final two quarters, a fumble by Evan Gilles, a muffed punt by McDaniel and two Tamburo interceptions.
"Tift played great, I'm not taking anything away from Tift," Sphire said. "They played really well."
The Blue Devils put the finishing touches on the win with 1:46 left when Lanarius McKinley ran in from five yards out on a play where it looked as if the Bulldogs, who were running out of time and timeouts, let him score to get the ball back.
But Tamburo's second pick of the fourth quarter ended any hopes for a miracle North comeback, and it ended the high school careers of a Bulldog senior class that went through four coaches in four years.
"This senior class, you can't say enough about them," Sphire said. "They showed tremendous character, and they deserved to be here."
Like the second half, the first half was marred by questionable officiating calls on both ends, but still resulted in a scoreless tie after 24 minutes.
On North's second drive of the game, the Bulldogs drove from their own 3 to Tift 35-yard line, highlighted by a 37-yard run by Tamburo.
But two plays later from the Tift 32, Tamburo was sacked on third down for a loss of eight yards. However Tift was called for defensive holding on the play.
That's where the confusion began.
After a lengthy delay of more than eight minutes, the referees ruled the holding call should be enforced from the end of the play, rather than the original line of scrimmage. So instead of first-and-10 from the Tift 22, it was third-and-5 from the Tift 30.
North then was called for a delay of game penalty and Tamburo was only able to get three yards on the next run and the Bulldogs were forced to punt.
Tift, which collected over 80 yards worth of penalties in the first half alone, then got another tough break from the officials when a short toss from Baxley, that appeared to be a forward pass, was ruled a lateral and North's Eric Eberhardt recovered on the Tift 35-yard line with 59 seconds left in the half.
An ensuing personal foul penalty on the Blue Devils gave North the ball first-and-10 at the Tift 20.
But after a nine-yard pass, Tamburo was sacked for a loss of 10 on second-and-one and his third down pass toward Ryan McDaniel in the end zone fell incomplete - though there was considerable contact from the Tift corner on the play.
Chad Gross' 37-yard kick sailed wide left and the score remained deadlocked heading into the locker room. It was the last time North would be in Tift territory.
Tift County 13, North 0
North 0 0 0 0 - 0
Tift 0 0 7 6 - 13
Tift: Marqus King 38 pass from Sean Baxley (Charlie Edwards kick) 1:28
Tift: Lanarius McKinley 5 run (kick failed) 1:46
First downs 7 14
Rushes-yards 21-28 34-68
Passing yards 50 146
Comp.-Att.-Int. 11-22-2 18-26-0
Fumbles-lost 2-2 5-2
Penalties 6-58 9-112
RUSHING - North: Evan Gilles 7-46, Mikey Tamburo 14-(-18). Tift: Kaream Hess 21-100; Lanarius McKinley 2-5; Israel Troupe 2-(-3); Sean Baxley 9-(-34).
PASSING - North: Tamburo 11-22-2, 50. Tift: Baxley 17-25-0, 120; Marvin Chaney 1-1-0, 26.
RECEIVING - North: Tyler Jarry 6-35; Brandon Rodd 2-13; Gilles 2-9; Ryan McDaniel 1-(-7). Tift: Hess 7-32; Marqus King 3-48; Troupe 3-39; Worth Ellis 3-14; Jared Davis 1-8; Chaney 1-5.