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Mill Creek 38, Central Gwinnett 16

HOSCHTON - Coaches and fans quickly temper any praise for quarterback John Russ with the caveat, "he's just a sophomore."

It's offered as an excuse for a bobbled snap or an overthrown ball.

It's also delivered with a sly smile. A, "yes, that was a good play and he's only a sophomore."

Even Russ notes his age when talking about his game.

"I was a little bit nervous," the Mill Creek quarterback said about his first home start Friday against Central Gwinnett. "I am a sophomore, but I want to play like a senior and be a leader."

Russ threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns and also added a rushing score in the Hawks' 38-16 win over Central Gwinnett. He completed 13 of 18 passes. Russ did fumble a few snaps and overthrow a couple of passes and was even sacked for a safety, but he never crumbled from the mistakes. He made up for them.

In the first quarter, he fumbled a snap and took a sack on consecutive plays that led to a punt and a Central touchdown on an 81-yard touchdown run by Shafic Woniewala. On the next drive, Russ hit Devonte Lewis on first down from the 14 to tie the game.

When Central turned another Hawk fumble into a touchdown, Russ led the offense on a six-play, 74 yard scoring drive going 3-for-3 for 84 yards on the drive and setting up a Tyler Cierski 4-yard scoring dive. Russ ended the first half with a 38-yard deep ball to Casey Windom along the sideline for a touchdown.

"I've got great receivers," Russ said.

He finished his night taking two punishing hits on a 10-yard draw for his rushing touchdown.

"You saw a few more mistakes than last week," Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said. "He has done well with the football."

And Russ got help.

Cierski rushed for 81 yards on 12 carries to pick up his two touchdowns and Brandon Hayman had five catches for 84 yards, including a 47-yard pickup on his first reception the led to the Hawks' first score.

"That changed the momentum of the game," Jarvis said.

Then there was the defense.

Sure Central scored on runs of 81 and 24 yards. The 24-yard run by Woniewala was on a fourth-down, double handoff. But the Mill Creek defense only allowed five first downs in the game and held Central to minus-5 passing and 91 rushing after the two long touchdown runs.

"The defense played well," Jarvis said. "We responded well from Dacula."

The loss to Dacula a week ago on the last play of the game staggered the Hawks and Russ admitted it took time to get over.

But like Russ and the Hawks did Friday, they bounced back.

"This feels amazing," Russ said.