Mountain View's Willaim Tuider (8) takes the ball down field after a catch Mill Creek's Fabian Taylor (29) and Taylor Coleman (44) can't make a tackle during the first half of Friday's game.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It took awhile for Tim Hardy to quiet his team, a swell of Mountain View students, parents and coaches down. And when he finally did, he riled them right back up.
"How 'bout them Bears?" the Mountain View head coach screamed, leaning back for maximum volume.
And the celebration began anew.
It's not like Mountain View's never won a football game. Or even a region game. The Bears just never won a game like this.
The Bears took down Mill Creek 9-7 to open Region 7-AAAAA play, a shocking win over a Hawks team which rolled into the new Lawrenceville school unbeaten, drubbing all three opponents in its non-region play.
It's the Bears' first win over one of the schools it tugged students from when it opened.
"This is a signature win," Hardy said on the field after the game. "We talked about that today, we have won a couple of games that maybe we were supposed to win, but we need to start winning games that people don't think we are going to win. We did that tonight."
The coach couldn't take a three steps without coaches, parents, former player or fans hugging him. One told him, "You just started a rivalry."
Nothing said rung more true.
"I am just proud of our football team," Hardy said. "I am proud of the attitudes. I am proud of their efforts. We preached to them all season that if they believed in themselves and played the game the way it's supposed to be played, that's with mental toughness, that's with physical toughness, that's with focus, good things will happen."
Mountain View won the game with toughness and it started on defense.
The Bears held Mill Creek to 259 yards of offense and just seven points. The Hawks managed just nine first downs, and didn't pick up their first until the second quarter. When Mill Creek was driving in the final minutes of the game looking for the go-ahead score, the defense tightened up. It forced the Hawks to keep the drive going with a fourth-down conversion and on second down from the Bears' 32, chased quarterback James Holder around long enough to force an intentional grounding pass pushing Mill Creek into a third and then fourth-and-48.
When the pass sailed too far, the celebration began.
There were as many tears and hugs and smile and handslaps as the disbelief continued even as the players rushed into their fieldhouse to continue the celebration.
"We knew when the season started we could win this game," said junior running back Marvin Elam. "It was an intense game. Our defense stepped up. That is why we won the game, our defense."
Coaches love to talk about "all three phases" but for the Bears, they truly used all three.
On offense, Mountain View just sapped the clock. Its two scoring drives both lasted more than seven minutes. It converted six third downs, mostly on the arm of junior quarterback Chris Bartlett, who was a very efficient 13 of 17 for 142 yards. He completed passes to five different receivers.
"We just possessed the ball," Hardy said.
And then came special teams.
Mill Creek's defense force a Bears punt with more than four minutes to go in the game, but the ball was mishandled by the Hawks' returner and senior Tyler Bethune pounced on the loose ball at the Mill Creek 30, swapping field position and running more clock. When the Bears finally did fail on fourth down, the Hawks committed two penalties after the play pushing them back to their own nine. Penalties killed Mill Creek all game, racking up 164 yards of them. And with starting quarterback John Russ out with an injury, the offense missed its senior leader.
The Bears' final score came off the leg of sophomore Jeffrey Stone. The 32-yard kick was Stone's first varsity field goal of his career. The go-ahead kick became the difference in the game.
When Mill Creek returned the opening kickoff to the Mountain View 40, it appeared a harbinger of the rest of the game. But the Hawks didn't get any further, turing the ball over on downs.
The Bears responded with their only touchdown, a 14 play, 63-yard touchdown drive, marred only by a failed extra point.
And the early lead held.
Mountain View's defense didn't allow a first down until the second quarter and the offense, though scoreless, ate up plenty of clock despite just 19 yards of rushing in the first half. Quarterback Chris Bartlett completed 8 of 12 first half passed for 91 yards.
Mill Creek's offense finally showed some spark in the final minutes, driving 74 yards in less than two minutes for a go-ahead touchdown with 29 second left in the half. Carter Governale ripped of a 49-yard run and James Holder found Deonte Holeman for 33 more yards in the quick-scoring drive. And on fourth-and-goal from the 1 it was Holder diving in for the score.
It was the one scoring drive the Hawks could muster against the Bears' defense, which allowed a few big plays, but never broke down.
"We won the game with defense. Our defense held a very explosive offense to seven points," Hardy said. "Mill Creek is an excellent football team and tonight was a night.
"All I know is that when the region standings come out tomorrow we'll be at the top, 1-0."