SUWANEE -- Danielle Au hobbled across the field to take the first penalty kick.
Injured late in regulation, North Gwinnett's star senior booted the ball cleanly home. Ten rounds of penalty kicks later, Au got another chance.
She limped once more to the mark and punched another one into the back of the net.
Au's second conversion stood up as the game-winner after Grayson missed on its 11th chance. The 2-1 victory Wednesday sent third-ranked North Gwinnett to the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA state soccer playoffs.
It also ended a hard-fought game and season for the Rams (11-8-1), who suffered their eighth one-goal loss and fifth in PKs. A number of those were to the top teams in the Southeast, including No. 2 Parkview and Alabama power Vestavia Hills.
"It's the story of our season this year -- close but not enough," Grayson head coach Terry Klinect said. "The girls played their hearts out.
"If you get to that (PK) situation, it's tough on both teams. Somebody's got to go home the loser. And North Gwinnett is a very good team. I suspect they will make the Final Four, may even play in the championship game."
The good news for the Bulldogs (16-3), beyond advancing, is Au appears to have just strained her calf. She wasn't able to play in overtime, but got out there for the penalty kicks.
"I've never gone past five (rounds in the PK)," Au said. "That was hard to try it twice.
"It was a good game. We had a couple chances that we should have finished off, but overall, I think both teams did really well. We're excited. I want to finish out this year with a win."
North coach Mark Karen said not only had the team not gone beyond five penalty kick rounds this season, in his 13-year career, he's never gone far enough to reuse shooters.
"We played sloppy, not our typical game," Karen said. "And that's to Grayson's credit. They took us out of our normal game plan. Grayson's hard work matched ours and made for a excellent match."
Two stalwart defenses squared off and limited the opportunities in the first half. The only person to get any serious scoring chances was Au and she was 1-for-3 on those.
Au scored the only goal of the half, in just the fourth minute, but had two gorgeous chances afterward that she pushed wide.
Living up to her reputation as a talented attacker, Au swung down the left side and got inside of the defender. Coming from the right, Grayson's collapsing defense couldn't cut off the angle quickly enough and Au was open near the top of the goal box. The South Carolina signee tucked the ball just inside the near post for the 1-0 lead.
Nearing the midway point of the half, Au was sprung on a great head-man pass from Abbi Edwards. Slicing through the middle of the field, Au was alone in the penalty box. The shot went just wide of the far post and Au slapped a palm to her forehead.
She missed on a similar play about 10 minutes later, showing off her excellent foot skills only to angle the shot a little too wide on the opposite side.
"I had three breakaways, but I finished off one," Au said. "I was getting frustrated because usually I don't -- I try -- not to miss those.
"They got really tighter in the back in the second half. Which made it hard."
Goalkeeper Mollie Williams also made several good saves to keep the Rams within striking distance after 40 minutes.
Williams had to make another diving grab just 30 seconds into the second half, curling around a shot from Au.
Grayson junior Erin Griffin made that smothering stop mean even more when she tied it in the 48th minute.
Cutting through traffic in the middle, Griffin headed a pass forward to herself and lobbed the bouncing ball over North keeper Lauren Duncan.
The next 10 minutes were spent almost entirely in Grayson's half of the field as the Bulldogs probed for an opening.
"We just tried to stay with what we've been doing all year," Klinect said. "We've been successful with that style defense, the 4-4-2. Trying to control Danielle is a tough task. She's a game-breaker."
The Bulldogs were threatening again after a corner kick from Sarah Murphy rebounded out past the 18 to a open trailing defender. The shot was blocked off smartly by Grayson freshman Jessica Allen and moments later, North suffered a significant blow to its offense. Au was down with 7:30 left on the clock, grabbing her left leg. After tense moments, she limped gingerly off the field and sat on the track next to the bench.
Au did not return until PKs. She was standing by the end of the scoreless first overtime and walking around the sideline in the second. She was confident, though, her team could get her another chance at the net.
"We've been in situations where we've have to come back," Au said. "I love pressure and I think our team is so united that we know we can come out of a tough situation. All we needed was to go to PKs, because we feel comfortable in that situation."'