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HAMMOCK: Dixon's defense pushes Lions back

Will Hammock

Will Hammock

SUWANEE -- Peachtree Ridge's last meaningful possession of Friday night's Region 7-AAAAA title matchup said it all.

With the aid of a personal foul, the Lions had moved the ball just inside North Gwinnett territory. Three plays later, they had been pushed back to their own 39-yard line for a fourth-and-long.

It was that kind of night for their offense. And that kind of night for a quick North defense, whose ability to keep points off the scoreboard on repeated Peachtree Ridge drives into Bulldog territory made a huge difference in the outcome.

Any time the Bulldogs had their backs up against their own end zone, they bowed up and led the way in a 21-7 victory that gave 52-year-old North its first region championship.

"I'm real proud of us," said North's Will Compton, who capped the victory with a last-minute interception return for a touchdown. "The defense really stepped it up tonight. We tightened it up."

The defense really locked down when Peachtree Ridge threatened to score.

It started right away as the game's first possession ended when North's Elder Palacios blocked a field goal. Later in the first quarter, a Peachtree Ridge fourth-and-goal was snuffed out on a hit in the backfield by Trey Sims.

In the second quarter, the Lions drove to North's 19 before losing a fumble. On their next drive, they went for it on fourth down at North's 34, but Sims blew up the play for another crucial stop.

Leaving all those points on the field left Peachtree Ridge in a 7-0 halftime deficit.

The trend continued in the third quarter as the Lions missed a field goal, then North made a decisive stand after Dubem Nwadiogbu's interception gave Peachtree Ridge the ball at North's 35. The Bulldogs pushed back once again, forcing a punt.

That momentum gave North the boost for its game-winning drive.

Peachtree Ridge's jumbo offensive front gave North issues on one scoring drive, but outside of that the smaller Bulldogs held their own. Mostly because of their tremendous speed, which prevented the Lions from having much success on sweeps.

David Park (10 tackles), Compton (eight tackles, fumble recovery, interception), Sims (seven tackles) and Brandon McGowen (six tackles, fumble recovery) all played well, but it was a complete effort on defense.

"These kids, what you see is what they are, they play hard," North defensive coordinator Maurice Dixon said. "We had a stretch in the meat of our season where we had three to five starters out. But these kids have played hard all year. They've been doing this all year."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays.