Photo by Christine Troyke
Behind two touchdown passes each from senior C.J. Uzomah and junior Scott Hosch, North Gwinnett prevailed 28-15 in Saturday's scrimmage against Grayson.
Despite being outgained 328 yards to 289 by Grayson's run-oriented offense, North limited the Rams' big plays and made a crucial fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
Grayson's powerful running game, which also included many shotgun sets, will prepare North Gwinnett for a stiff nonregion schedule which includes Lassiter in the Corky Kell Classic, Bob Jones (Ala.) and Crenshaw (Calif.).
Grayson will also open its regular season Saturday in the Corky Kell against Kell and will then take on Spain Park (Ala.) in North Gwinnett's National Football Challenge.
"(A game like this) is the only way we're even going to have chance to be ready for (the season)," North Gwinnett head football coach Bob Sphire said. "The game speed the next three weeks with our nonregion schedule is going to unbelievable, it's going to be phenomenal. If we don't have our game speed ready, we'll get blown out.
"And we may play really, really well the next three weeks and not end up on the right side of the scoreboard. We are playing a national schedule against some of the best teams in the country and then we're arguably in one of the hardest regions. Grayson helps us get ready for that."
Grayson's senior kicker Austin Clark missed wide left on his first field goal attempt from 42 yards, but on the next Rams' possession, he opened the game's scoring with a 40-yard field goal.
Uzomah (8 of 10, 61 yards) started the game at quarterback and connected with junior running back Ethan Kilgore (3 receptions, 30 yards) on a 9-yard swing pass to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead with 7:26 remaining in the second quarter.
Clark tacked on another three points for the Rams, sending the game into halftime with North Gwinnett leading 7-6.
Hosch (6 of 9, 123 yards) made quick work of Grayson's defense in the second half's opening drive, finding Uzomah for a nine yard pass and then another 13-yard pass. And with 10:11 left in the third quarter, Hosch found senior Connor Jenkins, streaking free down the middle of the field, for a 48-yard touchdown that extended the Bulldogs' lead to 14-6.
Special teams proved costly to North Gwinnett in the third quarter. Senior Jeff Hatley mishandled the deep snap and was tackled in his own end zone for a safety, making it a one-possession game once again at 14-8 with 5:36 left in the third.
Helped by two 15-yard personal foul penalties, North Gwinnett drove the length of field, culminating in 19-yard screen touchdown pass from Uzomah to Kilgore that extended the Bulldogs' lead to 20-8 with 5:19 left in the game. A holding call on the two-point conversion led to yet another North Gwinnett special teams miscue, a missed point after attempt by senior Jeff Hatley.
Grayson senior quarterback Camen Marshall (5 carries, 86 yards) made his first appearance and, on only his second carry of the game, scampered 70 yards for Grayson's lone touchdown to cut the lead to 20-15 with 3:54 to go in the game. A successful onside kick attempt was called back due to illegal touching.
On third down, Hosch found a wide-open Uzomah down the right side of the field for a 46-yard touchdown pass. North Gwinnett elected to go for two and Hosch hit sophomore running back Donnie Miles (15 carries, 56 yards) for the conversion to give the Bulldogs the final 28-15 lead.
"C.J. gives us so many options," Sphire said. "I've just got to be careful about trying to do too much that we're not good at anything. He's a great kid to coach. He's a team player. The key is (Hosch) being ready to give me all those options."