Photo: Craig Cappy North Gwinnett running back Cam Lewis (2) runs behind the block of Devondre Seymour (70) as he blocks Johns Creek's Cody Hardage (10) during a playoff game this season.
SUWANEE -- Dispatched describes it all.
Before the substitutes took over in the fourth quarter and the game turned sloppy, North Gwinnett easily handled Johns Creek in its first-round home playoff win. The final score of 49-19 actually makes the game appear closer than it played. After three quarters, when head coach Bob Sphire pulled most of his starters, North led 35-7, had punted just once and scored on all but three possessions. The defense gave up just eight first downs in the three quarters and rattled Gladiators quarterback Skye Overton to 6 of 15 passing for 47 yards. His team-high 61 yards rushing were buoyed by a 22-yard scamper in the third quarter.
"I thought we were sharp," Sphire said. "To come out and execute in the first round of the playoffs means the guys were focused this week. Coming out of last week's game (a narrow win over Peachtree Ridge) when we weren't real impressive, it was nice to come out sharp and move on to the next round."
That next round is a trip across Gwinnett County to face the defending state champion Grayson Rams. The two county teams have played just once, two years ago in the second round of the state playoffs. Grayson won the matchup 23-19 at North Gwinnett.
"Let's not even dance around it," Sphire said, "they are a great football team. They are riding the wave right now at its highest crest. They have great program.
"The plan doesn't change. We have a practice format and a playoff plan."
The plan worked to perfection this week, once North stopped hurting itself.
The Bulldogs opened up the game with an eight-play, 42-yard scoring drive after forcing Johns Creek to a three-and-out. Cam Lewis got the scoring started with a 2-yard touchdown dive.
But after the defense forced a second Gladiator punt, North couldn't hold onto the ball, giving Johns Creek solid field position at the 50. Ten plays and five minutes later, North found itself tied 7-7.
That was the closest it ever was.
"We set the table, unfortunately, for their one score with our turnover," Sphire said. "Come playoff time, the more you can minimize your own mistakes and capitalize on theirs, typically that team wins."
The Bulldogs scored on their next three possessions with quarterback Michael Haynes throwing for scores of 8, 20 and 76 yards, while the Bulldogs defense didn't allow the Gladiators to gain a single yard in the span.
"When you are feeding off of each other, that always helps," Sphire said. "The defense was flipping the field or setting the table for the offense it makes it that much better."
By the end of the half, Haynes was 11 of 12 for 157 yards and three scores, his only incompletion coming on the last pass of the half from his own end zone. It was a planned incompletion, called by Sphire.
"I told him just to throw it over the receiver's head out of bounds," Sphire said. "To be honest with you, I had no idea. I knew he had played pretty well."
At the half, Haynes had completed passes to five different receivers, spreading his touchdown throws to Caleb Scott, Nate Brown and Russell King. King won the yardage score with the 76-yard sprint, but it was Brown who made the catch of the night. The pass to the back of the end zone bounced off his outstretched hand but he stuck with it and came down with the ball before falling out of bounds. Haynes didn't slow much in the third quarter, completing 6 of 7 passes and adding another touchdown. The senior quarterback ended the game with 248 yards and four touchdowns on 17 of 19 passing.
Back-up quarterback Hayden Sphire added two more touchdown passes, completing 4 of 6 for 35 yards in the fourth quarter.
When the fourth quarter closed, focus turned immediately to Grayson.
"We don't change our preparation," Sphire said. "I've been in this a long time. I think the plan is fine."