VALDOSTA - All season North Gwinnett has been able to rely on two things: its passing offense and its defense.
Neither were a match for Lowndes on Saturday in the Class AAAAA state football championship game at Martin Stadium.
The Bulldogs' defense gave up its most rushing yards all season and the passing game was ineffective as the Vikings rolled to a 34-6 victory.
"It just came down to they made plays and we didn't," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. "We got beat by a really good football team tonight. We didn't play our 'A' game and they did."
It's the third state title in four years for Lowndes. The Vikings won championships in 2004 and 2005. In the 2005 state title game, the Vikings routed Brookwood 49-7.
Lowndes rolled up 357 yards rushing, the most North has given up all season. The Vikings had two 100-yard rushers in Greg Reid (188 yards) and Darriett Perry (128).
"It was wet and we're not going to throw it for entertainment," Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson said. "If we can run it, we're going to run it."
North was held to just 233 yards of offense and 218 of those yards came through the air. Quarterback Michael Tamburo completed 14 of 26 passes for 192 yards, but had two interceptions, including one returned for a 70-yard touchdown. The quarterback draws and scrambles that Tamburo has been effective with this season were nonexistent against the Lowndes defense. Tamburo had just 16 yards rushing and the team finished with 15 yards on the ground.
"We're nothing fancy, but we play hard defense," McPherson said. "The defense played its best game all year without a doubt."
Lowndes didn't waste any time scoring. Reid took the first offensive play 91 yards for a touchdown. Eric Eberhardt blocked the PAT to make it 6-0.
"He made it 91 yards, we were trying to get four," McPherson said.
After North went three-and-out, Lowndes went 72 yards on eight plays before Darriett Perry scored on a 3-yard run. The Vikings converted the two-point conversion to go ahead 14-0 with 6:07 left in the first quarter. The North defense was finally able to contain Lowndes' wing-T offense and a high snap on a punt gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Vikings' 13-yard line. The Bulldogs couldn't do anything with the great field position and had to settle for a 35-yard Kyle Micek field goal that was no good.
"That was big, holding them to a field goal. That was big," McPherson said.
On Lowndes' ensuing possession, Eberhardt recovered a Reid fumble at the 44.
North tried a double pass on first down and Chad White was hit with a loss of 16 yards and the Bulldogs eventually had to punt.
"That was one is on me," Sphire said of the play call.
Lowndes responded with a six-play, 80-yard drive. Perry scored his second TD of the half on a 22-yard run and after the PAT was blocked again and Lowndes led 20-0.
North came back with a 54-yard pass from Tamburo to Tyler Jarry. Two plays later Tamburo scored on an 11-yard run with 2:43 left in the half. Reid blocked the PAT to give the Vikings a 20-6 halftime lead.
"They're an outstanding football team," Sphire said. "I was thinking at halftime we had three or four opportunities to make plays. Against a team like this those three or four opportunities that we had you've got to take advantage of and we did not take advantage of any of those."
Tamburo was picked off by Reid on the Bulldogs' first possession of the second half. Lowndes needed just five plays before Reid scored on a 15-yard run.
"I don't know how many yards they had, but they had a slew of them," Sphire said. "It probably is the best rushing team we've played against."
The Vikings' Michael Copeland recorded back-to-back sacks with the second one being a safety to put Lowndes ahead 28-6. The Vikings put to rest any hope of a North comeback in the third quarter when Tavaris Williams intercepted Tamburo and raced 70 yards for the score.
In just two years under Sphire, North his 25-4.
"Look at the great four-year run for these seniors," Sphire said. "They made it to the playoffs each year and they really climbed the mountain each year and they've really set it at the top."