JONESBORO - It wasn't the prettiest win, but when you get this far in the postseason it doesn't really matter.
North Gwinnett held off a late rally by Newnan to beat the Cougars 38-35 in the third round of the Class AAAAA football playoffs on Friday night, sending the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome and the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
North will play Walton next Saturday at 6 p.m.
"This is such a great feeling. Every one of the seniors deserves it," North's Eric Eberhardt said. "Going through all the coaching changes we've had going through three coaches in four years and that we were in the quarterfinals last year and lost."
After Kirtley Dovel's 36-yard touchdown put North up 38-19 with 2:19 left in the game, it looked like the game was over.
But two plays later, Newnan quarterback Russell Powell threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Alan Bonner. The Cougars added the two-point conversion to make it 38-27.
Newnan recovered the onside kick and seven plays later Powell threw another TD to E.J. Houston. Newnan added another two-point conversion and trailed 38-35 with 22 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars attempted another onside kick, but North recovered to seal the win.
"It shows what kind of team they had," said Eberhardt, who had seven tackles and one sack. "Even when they were down they kept fighting and scrapping. I think we let up a little and thought it was over, but you can't do that against a good team."
As much acclaim as the Bulldogs' passing offense gets, it was actually the running game that was the difference Friday.
Tyler Jarry racked up 146 yards rushing and had touchdown runs of 30 and 15 yards.
"That was huge. They run that 3-5 defense and we thought we could take advantage of it," Jarry said. "The offensive line was just phenomenal. They were opening up holes for me that were huge. They block their hearts out for me, so I try to run my heart out for them."
Quarterback Michael Tamburo had 92 yards rushing as the Bulldogs racked up 296 yards on the ground. North ran 23 run plays to only six pass plays in the second half.
"I like to think our offense is a lot like a chameleon and is able to adapt," North coach Bob Sphire said. "We felt like we had some things in the run game that we could do."
After each team traded possessions to start the game. Newnan put together a 10-play, 85-yard scoring drive. Powell completed a 15-yard pass to Bonner to put the Cougars up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. Powell finished the night 20 of 35 for 350 yards and four touchdowns.
North responded with a long drive of its own, but had to settle for a 35-yard Kyle Micek field goal to make it 7-3.
Powell completed a 19-yard pass to Bonner on third-and-10 from the North 26 to keep the Cougars' next drive alive. The North defense, which got seven tackles each from Eloka Anyaorah and Zach Humphrey, stiffened up and Newnan had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sam Taylor.
Newnan's lead didn't last long. On a triple pass, backup QB Patrick Thompson completed a 16-yard pass to Jarry and two plays later Tamburo threw a 34-yard screen pass to Dovel for a TD. However, holding was called and on the next play Tamburo broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10.
The junior quarterback was also 15 of 21 for 115 yards passing.
Jim Moreland, who also had seven tackles, intercepted a Powell pass on the Cougars' next possession at the 42. It took the Bulldogs just four plays before Tamburo hit Jaison Yoshimura for an 11-yard score to put North ahead 17-10 at the half.
North fumbled the kickoff to start the second half and Newnan took advantage with a three-yard TD pass from Powell to Bonner. Eberhardt blocked the PAT to make it 17-16.
The Bulldogs responded with an eight-play drive capped off by Jarry's 30-yard TD run.
After North held Newnan to a 28-yard field goal, the Bulldogs put together another long scoring drive with Jarry racing 15 yards for the score.
"He's such an explosive athlete and can do so many things for us," Sphire said of Jarry. "He's a big-play guy and he wants the ball in the clutch."
Eight minutes later Dovel added his touchdown run, but then Newnan made its late rally.
"I'm not going to lie, I was a little scared after they made that second touchdown," Jarry said. "But I knew we could pull off."
NORTH GWINNETT 38
North 0 17 7 14 - 38
Newnan 7 3 9 16 - 35
-Newnan: Alan Bonner 15 pass from Russell Powell (Sam Taylor kick) 1:36
-North Gwinnett: Kyle Micek 42 FG, 9:49
-Newnan: Taylor 27 FG, 5:14
-North Gwinnett: Michael Tamburo 37 run (Kyle Micek kick) 3:09
-North Gwinnett: Jaison Yoshimura 11 pass from Tamburo (Micek kick) 1:04
-Newnan: Bonner 3 pass from Powell (kick blocked) 10:03
-North Gwinnett: Tyler Jarry 30 run (Micek kick) 7:27
-Newnan: Taylor 28 FG, 2:57
-North Gwinnett: Jarry 15 run (Micek kick) 10:49
-North Gwinnett: Kirtley Dovel 36 run (Micek kick) 2:19
-Newnan: Bonner 60 pass from Powell (two-point conversion good) 1:27
-Newnan: E.J. Houston 20 pass from Powell (two-point conversion good) :22
First downs 22 21
Rushes-yards 33-296 36-114
Comp-Att-Int 16-21-0 20-35-1
Passing yards 131 350
Penalties-yards 5-47 8-60
Fumbles-lost 2-1 3-0
RUSHING - North Gwinnett: Tyler Jarry 15-146; Michael Tamburo 14-92; Kirtley Dovel 4-58. Newnan: Keandreas Wynn 17-67; Jarvoius Mitchell 9-45; Russell Powell 9-5; Alan Bonner 1-(-3).
PASSING - North Gwinnett: Michael Tamburo 15-21-0, 115; Patrick Thompson 1-1-0, 16. Newnan: Powell 20-31-1, 350.
RECEIVING - North Gwinnett: Dovel 5-45; Jarry 5-29; Jay Favaro 2-25; Jaison Yoshimura 2-26; Cordero Dixon 2-5.