SNELLVILLE - Bob Sphire thinks his defense grew tired of hearing how it didn't have enough experience.
"I think they had a little chip on their shoulder about it going into this season," the North head coach said.
The defense that returned just one starter from last year's state finals team shouldn't hear much more about what it lacks.
In a 17-3 win over Brookwood, the Bulldogs (1-1) defense allowed the annual running power Bronco (0-2) just 62 yards on the ground and 136 total yards of offense. The Broncos' one sustained drive came on its second possession and from there Brookwood labored for no points and just four first downs.
The lone scoring drive came off a North fumble near the 50 that gave Brookwood the ball 49 yards from the end zone.
"I thought the drive after the turnover was a foreshadowing of how they came to play," Sphire said. "They made big plays at the times when they needed to."
Experience may matter a bit.
The game-changing play came from the lone returning starter, Zach Humphrey.
North led by 7, 10-3 early in the fourth quarter and on third-and-5 quarterback Michael Tamburo made his lone mistake of the night throwing an interception that gave the Broncos the ball on the 50 with nine minutes to go.
On the first play, Humphrey snatched the ball out of the air and rumbled down to the 17. Three plays later, Tyler Jarry jolted into the end zone for the game-ending score. Jarry's score cemented an explosive second half where the senior racked up 49 of his 67 total yards.
"It was a real big change in momentum, I knew we needed that," Humphrey said. "We had to make our own momentum and just play hard. Like North Gwinnett does."
"That was a huge, seal the deal kind of play," Sphire said of Humphrey's interception.
"I think (our defensive effort) is a real tribute to Zach Humphrey and his leadership as the only returning starter."
Things didn't begin that way.
Brookwood's rushing offense came out in force to start the game. After forcing the North turnover on its first drive, Brookwood rode Marvis Lane all the way down to the 11 yard line before settling for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. The drive took nearly five minutes and lasted nine plays.
Five plays and less than two minutes later, North tied the game with a field goal of its own. Highlighting the quick answer was a 54-yard pass from Michael Tamburo to Conner Jenkins, who came within one Brookwood defender of a touchdown.
After the North defense forced one of its three first half three-and-outs and the Bulldogs offense put together one of its two lengthy drives. North drove 74 yards in seven plays in 2 minutes and 18 second with junior Chad Jarry scampering in from 13 yards out on second down.
Both teams struggled to move the ball the rest of the half, but that changed in the third quarter.
Brookwood managed just two yards on its opening-half possession, but Wade Brogdon's punt pinned North on its 23. From there North gobbled up 7:05 off the clock, driving 64 yards in 14 plays as Tamburo calmly moved the ball down the field. Tamburo completed all five of his passes on the drive and was 17 of 22 for 250 yards.
"We were taking what they gave us," Sphire said of the third quarter drive that ended with a missed field goal. "I think the third quarter was a great example of that. We had the ball almost the whole third quarter, rolled up a bunch of yards and unfortunately didn't get any points of out it. I thought that was a real sign of how (Tamburo) was managing the game tonight."
Brookwood never mustered much offense the rest of the half, squandering its one promising drive with penalties before it snuck into field goal range.
"We were making way to many mistakes on offense," said Brookwood head coach Mark Crews. "We were doing things on offense that good football teams can't do."
The interception medley followed and North's defense kept attacking, ending the game with a sack of quarterback Ben McLane.
Even the celebration had the air of a chip that's not going to go away.
"This means nothing if we don't win come region time which begins next week," Sphire said.