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1-2 punch: Tamburo-McDaniel connection leads North past Duluth

SUWANEE - North Gwinnett continued to steamroll its way through Region 7-AAAAA with a solid 42-15 win over Duluth on Friday night in front of a near-capacity crowd at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium

Duluth entered Friday's game riding high off an impressive 27-0 shutout over Forsyth Central a week ago, a win spurred on by 227 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns from junior running back Alex Hunt.

But Friday night, Duluth's star was the hunted as the Bulldog defense held Hunt to just 41 yards on 18 carries, the bulk of which came in the third quarter.

As impressive as its defense was, North's offense overcame a sluggish start to put 42 points on the board, spearheaded by the Michael Tamburo to Ryan McDaniel combination. Tamburo had a monster night throwing the ball, completing 19 of 25 attempts for 319 yards with four TD passes.

Nine of his completions went to McDaniel, who racked up 187 yards receiving and three touchdowns (from distances of 6, 76 and 21 yards).

"Mikey (Tamburo) and I have been throwing way back, since the summer, and we've got it down now," McDaniel said. "We know when it's going to open up and when we're going to make the big plays. Tonight, we put it all together."

Duluth (2-3, 1-2) had opportunities early in the game to gain momentum but couldn't take advantage of a couple of big plays. On their first possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt. A high snap over Kevin Fortmann's head landed near the goal line but a North player kicked it out of the end zone, giving Duluth the ball back at the 20 with a fresh set of downs.

Three plays later, running back Jeremy Dixon, who led Duluth in rushing with 74 yards on seven carries, ripped off a 53-yard run to the North 22-yard line, but a fumble by receiver Andre Williams three plays later ended that threat.

The Wildcats also had a shot at a 38-yard field goal on its next possession but Charlie Luther's attempt was wide left.

"I was trying to get our kids fired up to play as hard as they could," Duluth head coach Richard Gillespie said. "For the most part, we did that and I was proud of them. Penalties killed us and they made some big plays on us."

North, ranked No. 5 in the state, woke up late in the first quarter when it marched 80 yards on just four plays after the missed kick. Evan Gilles capped off the drive with a 4-yard run and Chad Gross, who was a perfect 6-for-6 on PATs, gave North (6-0, 4-0) the 7-0 lead.

That lead was extended to 14-0 in the second when Tamburo hit McDaniel for his first TD pass of the night, a six-yard fade in the left corner of the end zone with 3:45 left in the half.

Duluth's Greg Carson helped the Wildcats get on the board in the closing seconds of the first half when he blocked a Gross punt, resulting in a safety. However, North came out firing in the second half when Tamburo hit McDaniel for a 76-yard TD pass on the first play of the third quarter.

Tamburo helped North in its last three scores by running for a TD on a 2-yard plunge, connecting with Ryan Jarry on a 50-yard catch and run for a score and again finding McDaniel with 10:47 left on a 21-yard TD pass.

"We had some inconsistency early but, to our kids credit, they never let it frustrate them," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "We still have a long way go and I hope we can play a lot better down the road."

Hunt did provide Duluth with a glimmer of hope in the third quarter with a 10-yard TD run to cut the score to 21-9, but Jarry's TD quickly negated that score. Tony McKinney added the last score for the Wildcats with 2:34 left on a 26-yard scamper.