Photo: Karl L. Moore Central's Nate Hartford (14) jumps high over Dacula's Dontez Beamon (24) and A. C. Collins (10) for the touchdown during Friday night's game at Dacula.
DACULA -- Central Gwinnett came into Friday's matchup with Dacula with the luster of last week's big upset over Parkview. It took the Black Knights some time to crank up the offense against a young Dacula team, but nonetheless Central prevailed. Senior quarterback Eman Westmoreland was 22 of 30 for 273 yards and four touchdowns, two each to Justin Brownlee and Nate Hartford, in Central's 37-20 win over Dacula.
"I couldn't be prouder of the offense and defense," Central coach Todd Wofford said. "The defense played great up until certain points, third and long situations. We've got some things we've got to get fixed, but they played great."
The Falcons (1-8, 1-6 Region 8-AAAAAA) started off the night well by putting the ball in the end zone on their first drive. Marcus Cox dodged some tackles and rushed for 25 yards on the opening play. Three plays later, C.J. Mayes (7 carries for 62 yards, TD) fumbled the ball on a run to the left, recovered, cut back left completely across the field and flashed by the defense for a 38-yard TD run. Nick Mattiucci put the extra point through for a 7-0 Dacula lead with 9:39 to go in the opening period.
Central (5-4, 3-4 Region 8-AAAAAA) answered at the end of the first quarter with a big play. Brownlee (8 receptions for 152 yards, 2 TDs) took off on a route down the sideline, and Westmoreland found him wide open past a fallen Dacula defender. Brownlee strolled into the end zone, and Samir Ramic's kick tied the score at 7-7 as time expired in the first quarter.
"It just feels good to get the win and get my team involved," Brownlee said. "We really want to end our season with a winning record, and with the game next week, that can put us in the right place."
Dacula came right back with a big play of its own. Quarterback Brandon Goodson (12 of 26, 191 yards, TD) faked a handoff up the middle. Meanwhile, Michael Stampfel (4 receptions, 110 yards, TD) was running down the right side wide open. Goodson launched a long pass toward Stampfel, and the senior easily ran into the end zone to put the Falcons up 14-7 with 11:39 to go in the first half.
After Central's offense was stopped on its next drive, the defense came up with points. On third down, defenders chased Goodson back into his own end zone. Goodson threw the ball away without a receiver in the area and was called for intentional grounding. The penalty gave Central a safety and cut Dacula's lead to 14-9.
The teams swapped three-and-out series before Central jumped on top before halftime. Westmoreland completed 4 of 5 passes on the drive for 30 yards before Brownlee took a handoff left for an end-around run down the sideline for a score. A two-point conversion failed, but the Black Knights led 15-14 going into halftime.
The Falcons came out of the lockerroom and came up with a game-changing play early. After stopping the Black Knights offense on three downs, Dontez Beamon blocked a punt that was recovered at the Central 15. Cox (13 carries for 81 yards, TD) took the first play from scrimmage into the touchdown for a 20-15 lead after a missed extra point.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they would not score again. The Black Knights suffered no such fate.
Jourdin Shiloh (21 carries, 104 yards) led his team down the field with some good runs on the next drive, and Westmoreland hooked up with Hartford (4 receptions, 58 yards, 2 TDs) for a 13-yard TD. A two-point conversion from Westmoreland to Mitchell Morris gave Central a 23-20 lead with 7:18 left in the third.
After forcing a fumble on Dacula's next possession, Westmoreland and Hartford again connected for a score, this one a 32-yard completion, for a 30-20 lead with 4:54 to go in the third.
Dacula drove down the field from its own 20 and looked like it had scored a TD to close the gap. But a pair of offsetting penalties negated the score by Stampfel, and Mattiucci's field goal attempt went wide right early in the fourth quarter.
Later in the final period, Central stopped the Falcons on downs near midfield. Westmoreland and Brownlee connected for a 40-yard connection on the first play of the drive and then on a 22-yard score over two defenders, putting the final points on the board for a 37-20 decision.
"(Central) has a talented quarterback and a couple of talented players on offense," Dacula coach Jared Zito said. "They've been high-powered all year. I thought for the most part we played pretty good defense. We gave up a few big plays that really cost us. Offensively, we weren't very consistent. Like I told the kids, I'm going to take the blame for some things offensively. I just felt like we overthought some things."