Staff Photo: John Bohn Central Gwinnett running back George Morris (27) rushes for a gain as South Gwinnett linebacker Anthony Beck (53) tries to make a tackle during the second half of a Great American Classic football game played at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
ATLANTA -- About the only thing that could stop each offense in Saturday night's game between Central Gwinnett and South Gwinnett was itself.
But in the end, the difference was one special teams play and one defensive play by South.
A blocked extra point on Central's last touchdown and a sack of Emmanuel Westmoreland on the game's final play with the Black Knights on the South 15 ended one of the most prolific offensive battles in recent memory with the Comets emerging 63-55 winners to close out the Great American Football Classic at the Georgia Dome.
Technically, South has been in higher-scoring games before -- such as a 70-49 loss to Lassiter during the 2009 Class AAAAA state playoffs. But for sheer yardage, it would be hard to top Saturday's game.
The Comets (1-3, 1-1) piled up 621 total yards -- 384 of which came from quarterback Mason Hart on 19 of 31 passing for 289 yards and 95 yards rushing.
Meanwhile, the Black Knights (3-1, 1-1) produced 684 yards. Westmoreland finished the night 31 of 48 for 582 yards, including 11 completions to Malachi Jones for 283 yards.
But those two big plays by South swung a game that saw four ties and seven lead changes in the Comets' favor.
The big break came after George Morris, who finished with a game-high 126 yards on 16 carries, broke off the second of his long touchdown runs from 64 yards out to put Central in front 55-49 with 4:43 to play.
But an unidentified Comets player managed to gain penetration and block the extra point attempt, leaving an opening for South.
Hart made sure the Comets would cash in, rolling away from a heavy pass rush and finding a wide-open Bernard Morrison for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 2:41 left.
Amar Salhic managed to send the point after TD through, giving South a 56-55 lead.
After turning the ball over on downs and with no timeouts left, Central allowed another South score -- Jordan Shiloh's 22-yard run with 1:16 left that made the score 63-55 -- to get one last shot with the ball.
Westmoreland nearly made that gamble pay off, hitting Jones with two big completions and hooking up with Louis McGee for another that got the ball down to the South 15.
But facing a heavy pass rush, the junior quarterback couldn't get the next pass away and went down, and the clock ran out before the Black Knights could line up and snap the ball again, ending the wild shootout.
Little was settled during a first half that saw a combined 43 points, 541 yards, eight turnovers and 13 penalties totaling 83 yards.
South struck first, needing just two plays to go 85 yards, with the final 42 being covered by L.J. Gainey after taking a swing pass from Hart to give the Comets a quick 7-0 lead just 32 seconds after the opening kickoff.
It took five plays and 57 seconds for Central to answer, with Westmoreland hooking up for the first of his five touchdown passes to Jones on a 28-yard strike to pull the Black Knights even at 7-7 with 10:31 still left in the first quarter.
The two teams then alternated in flashes of offensive brilliance -- with South scoring the next nine points to take as much as a 16-7 by the end of the first quarter before Central answered with two more scoring passes from Westmoreland to Jones in a 5-minute span of the second quarter to take a 21-16 lead -- and flashes of agonizing frustration, with three Central fumbles and an interception, countered by three South fumbles.
The Comets got the final points of the half when Tyrone Atchison somehow stayed on his feet after a bone-crunching, sandwich of a hit by two Black Knight defenders before rolling into the end zone for a 30-yard TD completion from Hart with 3:45 left in the half.
When the dust had settled, South took the 22-21 lead into intermission.