HOSCHTON - For two straight weeks, North Gwinnett has needed two impressive comebacks in tough Region 7-AAAAA.
And the seventh-ranked Bulldogs are still unbeaten.
Trailing at halftime for the second game in a row, North used big plays to escape an upset bid from host Mill Creek in a 40-24 victory that was much closer than the final score indicated.
The Hawks ran 74 offensive plays to North's 43, but couldn't overcome the Bulldogs' big plays - their final five touchdowns were all 35 yards or longer.
"I thought our guys really played inspired football in the second half," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "They played with a lot of pride."
It took plenty of big plays for the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 in Region 7-AAAAA) to survive Mill Creek (3-2, 1-2). The most important came in the third quarter as back-to-back TD passes from Mikey Tamburo to Cordero Dixon turned the game's momentum.
Down 21-14 at halftime, North started the second half on a three-and-out series, its fourth possession in a row without a first down. But then Tamburo, on a third-and-15, found Dixon for a 66-yard TD reception.
After a Mill Creek three-and-out, Tamburo hit Dixon again for a 46-yard TD as he got free behind the defense on a post pattern for his second TD and a 27-21 North lead.
Tamburo rushed for 126 yards and threw for 148 more, while Dixon had four catches for 120 yards.
"I was just waiting for the ball," Dixon said of his TDs. " Everybody thought they saw the post open because their safeties are real aggressive. I told the coaches I thought the post was going to be there."
Mill Creek fought back, getting to within 27-24 with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard field goal from Brian Heinze.
But the Bulldogs followed with their only ball-control drive of the night, capping it with a 35-yard TD run from Tyler Jarry, who Sphire said earlier in the week would be out three to four weeks because of a practice injury. Jarry's ankle was wrapped, but didn't have a noticeable limp and scored two TDs.
Robert Nelson scored North's final points, returning an interception 80 yards in the final minute.
"It's nice to have a couple of game-breakers like CD, Tyler and Mikey," Sphire said. "We've got a stable of guys there who are making plays."
The loss was a tough one for Mill Creek, which dominated field position in the first half for its 21-14 lead. Ed Russ (102 rushing yards, 117 passing yards) scored on a 68-yard run on the opening possession and added a 4-yard run later in the half. Ramael Wilson also scored a first-half TD for the Hawks.
But Tamburo also had a big play in the first half, racing free for a 78-yard TD run in the first quarter.
"I am extremely proud of our kids' effort tonight," Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said. "We executed on both sides of the ball, but obviously we gave up too many big scoring plays. I take my hat off to Mikey Tamburo and Cordero Dixon, they made plays."
North Gwinnett 40, Mill Creek 24
Mill Creek: Ed Russ 68 run (Brian Heinze kick) 10:39
North: Tyler Jarry 2 run (Jeff Hatley kick) 7:46
Mill Creek: Russ 4 run (Heinze kick) 2:17
North: Mikey Tamburo 78 run (Hatley kick) 1:25
Mill Creek: Ramael Wilson 9 run (Heinze kick) 6:59
North: Cordero Dixon 66 pass from Tamburo (Hatley kick) 7:23
North: Dixon 46 pass from Tamburo (kick failed) 4:44
Mill Creek: Heinze 32 FG, 8:59
North: Jarry 35 run (Hatley kick) 4:15
North: Robert Nelson 80 interception return (kick blocked) :33
RUSHING - North: Tamburo 12-126; T. Jarry 7-69; Raahmil Brantley 7-25; Chad Jarry 5-10. Mill Creek: Russ 26-102; Wilson 15-43; Marcus Kruzel 1-27; James Powell 2-5; Tyler Cierski 1-1.
PASSING - North: Tamburo 7-12-0, 148. Mill Creek: Russ 12-29-1, 117.
RECEIVING - North: Dixon 4-120; T. Jarry 1-11; Kenny Barnes 1-10; Brantley 1-7. Mill Creek: Zach Landis 5-52; Brandon Haymon 3-36; Wilson 2-13; Casey Windom 1-13; Ryan Cooke 1-3.