DULUTH -- With a showdown looming next week with undefeated Peachtree Ridge for the Region 7-AAAAA crown, North Gwinnett first had to deal with Duluth.
Showing no signs of distraction, North rode its running game to the tune of six rushing touchdowns as the Bulldogs (8-1, 6-0) pulled away for a 44-14 win over the Wildcats on Friday night at Cecil Morris Field.
Donnie Miles and Joe Jones each scored twice for North, with Miles totalling 96 yards on just eight carries, while Jones tallied 86 yards on 13 rushes.
"We got the win tonight, and that's No. 1 on our agenda." North head coach Bob Sphire said. "I was proud of how we stayed focused on the task at hand."
North, which features a potent passing attack, had a hard time finding yards through the air as quarterback Scotty Hosch was just 6 of 13 for 73 yards.
But as they've done multiple times this year, the Bulldogs showed their balance by racking up 272 yards on the ground.
"It's nice to have that balance," Sphire said. "Sometimes it's the game conditions and sometimes you take what the defense gives you, but it's good to be able to produce offense both running and throwing the ball."
Duluth (4-5, 2-4) was in need of a win to not only keep its playoff hopes alive, but also to give the Wildcats a chance at their first winning season since 1995.
Jones scored on a 1-yard run midway in the first quarter to give North a 6-0 lead, a score that stood by the end of the first.
But the Bulldogs took control with 14 more points in the second period, getting a 31-yard TD run on a keeper by Hosch and Jones' second 1-yard TD run of the night.
Leading 20-0 with just 10 seconds left in the half, North was forced to punt after Duluth head coach Corey Jarvis called a timeout.
That move paid off when Myles Campbell took the Bulldog punt and ran in 53 yards for the score to cut the margin to 20-7 at the half.
Fresh off of Campbell's punt return, Duluth kicked off and Jones returned to second-half kickoff 58 yards to the Duluth 20, setting up a short drive that took just two plays, ending with Miles' 13-yard TD run.
Duluth took the ensuing possession and drove from its own 15 to the North 14, but stalled after quarterback Anfornee Stewart was sacked by Justin Alabi. Alabi, a defensive end, spearheaded the defensive attack for North with four tackles for losses.
Caleb Starovasnik attempted a 35-yard field goal, but the snap was bobbled, and North took over on its own 22.
That drive lasted five plays and ended when Miles raced in from 50 yards out, extending North's lead to 34-7.
Duluth answered late in the third when senior Henry Enyenihi scored on a 10-yard run, but the Bulldogs closed out the game with 10 unanswered points, getting a 28-yard TD run from Jonathan Lewis and a 21-yard field goal from Alejandro Arroyave.
North's defense held Duluth to 186 total yards, 84 on the ground and 102 passing. Campbell led Duluth in rushing with 47 yards on nine carries, while Enyenihi added 42 yards on five rushes.
Stewart finished with 101 yards passing on 11 of 21 attempts, completing eight in a row at one point in the second half.
Duluth will play at Mill Creek next week in hopes of finishing the season at .500, which would be the Wildcats' first since 2003. North will host Peachtree Ridge to decide the Region 7-AAAAA top seed.