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North rebounds from rough week with big win

SUWANEE - The emotions could have gone either way.

Would North Gwinnett's football players be extremely motivated by Thursday's Georgia High School Association ruling that the team used an ineligible player, which could force the Bulldogs to forfeit as many as four games?

Or would they be deflated by the verdict, which is being appealed?

On Friday night at Peachtree Ridge, it was the clear the former was true.

The fourth-ranked Bulldogs looked focused from the start and rolled past the mistake-prone Lions 38-20 in a key Region 7-AAAAA matchup. North improves to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the region, although if the school's appeal is denied on Tuesday it likely will have to forfeit four of those 7-AAAAA wins.

If that situation was on the North players' minds on Friday, they put it behind them for four quarters to win an important game.

"(I told them) they've got 48 minutes to play football and put all this aside," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "If it's been burning in their gut, they've got a chance to go out there and unleash it and just play. That's really all I told them about it. It's really all about winning and it's all about the game."

If Peachtree Ridge's players felt sorry for North at all, they certainly gave the visitors some gifts. The Lions rolled up 418 yards of offense on North, but had five turnovers, gave up a blocked punt and had two long touchdowns called back by penalty.

North was more than willing to capitalize.

The Bulldogs moved the ball better on Peachtree Ridge than any team this season as Michael Tamburo was 16 of 21 passing for 202 yards. He threw touchdown passes to Tyler Jarry, Ryan McDaniel (seven catches for 103 yards) and Brandon Rodd, while also rushing for another score.

North also rushed for 113 yards, led by Evan Gilles' 68 yards on 15 attempts.

"To really come out here and hang 38 on the board and have some big plays against an outstanding, athletic team, like the blocked punt and the interceptions, is great," Sphire said. "That means we've got guys who are playmakers, too."

Jasper Williams made two of those huge plays with first-half interceptions, as did North defensive end Eric Eberhardt, who also had a critical pick.

With the score tied 0-0, the Lions (4-3, 2-3) tried a fake punt but Zach Graham's pass was intercepted in the flat by Williams, who raced 55 yards inside the Peachtree Ridge 5-yard line, where his attempted lateral was recovered by teammate Robert Pritchard at the 1.

Two plays later, Tamburo capped the short drive with a 6-yard TD run.

Peachtree Ridge answered with a 1-yard TD run by Chris Douglas, but North drove right back down the field for a 23-yard, Chad Gross field goal. Then the first half swung completely in North's favor on Eberhardt's interception.

The junior (who also had a fumble recovery) read a Graham screen pass perfectly and took the pick 45 yards to the Lions' 18-yard line. Three plays later, Tamburo found Jarry on an 11-yard TD pass and a 17-7 lead.

The Lions took over with 1:37 left before half and mounted a drive, but another Williams interception stopped the march.

"We had the turnovers, two touchdowns called back by penalties," Peachtree Ridge head coach Blair Armstrong said. "You can't do that against a good football team and that hurt us bad."

Peachtree Ridge opened the half with a drive to the North 44-yard line, but went for it on fourth-and-1. North's Jim Moreland and Chris Knox stuffed Douglas on fourth-down.

The Bulldogs' second offensive play of the third quarter was a major one, a 47-yard TD pass from Tamburo to McDaniel for a 24-7 lead.

"I thought the second play of the second half was a huge momentum play," Sphire said. "That's where I've really got to tip my hat to the staff. We scripted the first play to set the second play up and got exactly what we wanted when we drew it up. And the kids executed it to perfection."

Another Lion drive, capped by a 3-yard TD run from Brandon Davis, got it to 24-14. But North marched 80 yards in eight plays, including seven runs, to go up 31-14 on Jarry's 2-yard scoring run.

Cameron Demps' blocked punt followed, setting up an 8-yard TD pass from Tamburo to Rodd and a 38-14 lead. Graham threw a 43-yard TD pass to Derrick Bryant to cut the final margin to 38-20. The Lion quarterback completed 20 of 35 passes for 266 yards.

The outcome was long decided before the late TD, which didn't put a damper on a gutsy effort by the Bulldogs.

"I couldn't be more proud of a group of kids to be able to have the tunnel vision and the focus like that," Sphire said. "Not only that, but to have tremendous trust in the leadership at their school and what we're telling our guys to trust in and believe in. And mutually, it was a tremendous amount of trust that we had in our players that they could come out here, set things aside and concentrate on football."