Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
South Gwinnett's Aaron Wimberly (6) dives over Parkview's Walter McGriff (56) and Julian Vann on Friday.
SNELLVILLE -- Given the nature of both offenses, one might have expected a shootout in Friday's Region 8-AAAAA game between South Gwinnett and Parkview.
But both defenses were the focal points, and the host Comets hung tough by keeping the Panthers at bay for a 14-10 homecoming victory at Richard Snell Stadium.
South (6-1, 4-1) managed to keep Parkview to minimal points despite four turnovers, while the Panthers (4-4, 3-3) held a Comets offense averaging nearly 40 points per game to just 14.
"In the past, we probably wouldn't win this ball game," South coach John Small said. "I'm proud of our kids for rallying and responding. They bent a good bit, but they didn't break.
"Everybody talks about our offense, but I think (Friday) night, our defense won that ball game for us. ... That's what it takes to win games. ... Our defense picked up our offense (Friday) night. There have been plenty of nights where our offense picked up our defense."
The two teams combined for just 132 yards and seven first downs in the first half, and the only two scores were aided by miscues.
A fumble on the third play from scrimmage -- one of three first-half turnovers by South -- opened the door for Parkview.
And the Panthers took advantage by driving 56 yards in seven plays, capped by Anthony Covington's 19-yard run that gave his team a 7-0 lead with 7:42 left in the first quarter.
What was most unusual about the drive was that Parkview -- a predominantly passing team throughout the season -- ran all but one of those plays on the ground, and put the ball in the air just six times in the first half.
"Our balance was good," Parkview coach Cecil Flowe said. "We're getting the ball to the right people. Now, we've just got to make plays."
But a miscue in the Panthers' special teams early in the second quarter helped South answer.
A snap bounced up to punter Matt Johnson, and the Comets tackled him on the Parkview 7-yard line.
Two plays later, Kent Rollins hit Chad Ross on a fade to the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
But Christian Newsome dashed in to block Saxon Venair's extra point attempt to keep Parkview in front by a 7-6 score with 10:24 left in the first half.
The Panther defense was determined to make sure the game stayed that way, holding South to just 180 yard of total offense on the night.
But South kept coming, and a big play late in the third quarter helped vault the Comets in front.
Andre Pierce caught a pass just beyond the first-down marker at the South 26, made a move on his defender and sprinted down the right sideline 62 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Parkview 20.
Aaron Wimberly -- who fumbled three times on the night, twice on punt returns -- made up for his earlier mishaps by taking the next snap and sprinting up the distance the final 20 yards for a touchdown.
Wimberly then added the two-point conversion and the Comets led 14-7 with 4:54 left in the quarter.
Parkview responded by driving 68 yards in 15 plays down to the South 14.
But Esmonde -- who had an other wise solid night, completing 12 of 26 passes for 107 yards -- was sacked for a 12-yard loss on third down, forcing the Panthers to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Tony Sandy to pull to within 14-10 with 10:31 remaining.
Parkview then had one more chance, driving to the South 32 inside of 3 minutes to play.
But Kardae Matchett pounced on a Panther fumble with 2:37 to play, and the Comets were able to run out the clock and hold on for the win.