JOHNS CREEK - At times, North Gwinnett was its own worst enemy on Friday night. Other times, it was Chattahoochee quarterback Timmy Byerly.
But in the end, the third-ranked Bulldogs eventually wore down the Cougars to post a 54-23 Region 7-AAAAA win, putting a big spoiler on Chattahoochee's homecoming.
"Chattahoochee came out well prepared and we had to overcome ourselves at times," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "Sixteen penalties to their one is about as much as you have to ask to overcome especially against a good football team like that. To overcome all that and hang 54 on the board is pretty nice."
Sphire wasn't exaggerating as the Bulldogs were flagged 16 times for 165 yards to just one 5-yard penalty for Chattahoochee. However, North (6-0, 4-0) picked up a boost from its defense with a pair of scores while quarterback C.J. Uzomah and running back Raahmil Brantley paired up to carry North's offense.
Uzomah completed 13 of 21 passes for 198 yards with one interception and one touchdown pass, while Brantley added 81 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.
"C.J. is assuming more and more responsibility and making more and more progression every week," Sphire said.
The Bulldog defense came up big on the game's first play when Byerly fumbled on the first play of scrimmage with Eric Wright scooping up the loose ball and running it in 13 yards for the score.
Chattahoochee scrapped right back when Byerly hit Kevin Martin for a 21-yard TD pass on the next possession for a 7-7 score only to have North go back up 14-7 when Brantley scored his first TD on a 5-yard run.
The Cougars (2-4, 1-3) proved to be even more scrappy in the second quarter, eventually getting a pair of field goals from Ammon Lakip and another TD pass from Byerly to Martin to briefly take a 20-17 lead late in the second. Byerly finished with 90 yards and two TDs passing on 12 of 23 attempts while rushing 13 times for 54 yards.
Uzomah answered on the last drive of the first half, leading the Bulldogs 80 yards on nine plays, capped by his own 5-yard TD run, putting North up for good at 24-20.
The defense, which surrendered 20 points in the first half, stiffened in the last two quarters and held the Cougars to just three points off a Lakip's third field goal of the night.
With the Cougar offense struggling, the North offense kept rolling in the third as Brantley scored again on an 8-yard run and Uzomah, who rushed 11 times for 94 yards, punched in his second rushing TD of the night on a 30-yard scramble.
"Our defense made them work for everything they had," Sphire said. "We let them have a drive or two but didn't really give up any big plays and in the end I think our numbers came into play."
North put the game out of reach in the fourth with three more scores, one a 13-yard TD pass from Uzomah to Justin Dickens, another on a 36-yard interception return from James Kearney and finishing it off with a 23-yard field goal from James Hatley.