Staff Photo: John Bohn South Gwinnett running back Travon Davis (20) scores a touchdown while covered by Milton's Zack Spiezio (12) during the second quarter of Friday's game. South Gwinnett defeated Milton 27-20 in a Class-AAAAAA playoff football game.
SNELLVILLE --On the field for most of the second half, the South Gwinnett defense came up with a stop when it needed one the most.
Reggie Carter's big sack in the waning seconds deflated Milton's game-long comeback and brought some relief for the host Comets, who held on for a 27-20 victory Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. South (9-2) advances to play at unbeaten and Region 7-AAAAAA champion Norcross next Friday.
"Milton's huge, we knew that," South head coach John Small said. "They pushed us around a little bit and our kids bent, but never broke. And at the end of the game, that was a big stop. Our defense bailed us out tonight."
South's defense was put to the test because its offense managed only one first down and 34 total yards in the second half. And that first down came with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Milton ran 41 offensive plays to the Comets' 14 over the final two quarters, with Ole Miss commitment Peyton Barber (25 rushes, 112 yards and five catches for 43 yards) leading the way.
That ball-control offense, and a muffed punt by South at its own 10-yard line, allowed Milton to close to within 27-20 on a short Christopher Mills field goal with 3:39 left. South made its lone second-half first down on the ensuing possession, but punted back to the Eagles with 1:32 remaining.
Milton (7-4) drove to a first-and-10 at the Comet 35-yard line when Carter sacked Milton quarterback A.J. Bush at the 45. Nearly every Milton receiver was in the end zone on deep patterns, so they had to race back to the line of scrimmage as the clock drained.
By the time they all got there and Bush killed the clock with a spike, the clock showed just 1.8 seconds left. A last-gasp pass in the back on the end zone was intercepted just out of bounds by South's Mason Hart, his third pass breakup, as time expired.
"My thought was, 'We can't let them get to 27 points,'" said Carter, a longtime Georgia commitment. "Our offense bailed us out (with a late game-winning drive last week) against Parkview so we had to bail them out tonight."
While South's offense struggled to run or throw --Auburn commitment Carl Lawson had three sacks for Milton --in the second half, its quick start gave the Comets a 27-10 lead at halftime.
Bernard Morrison's 48-yard punt return set up a Josh Boyd touchdown run midway through the first quarter, then South scored on a one-play drive when Coray Keel took a short pass from Jordan Ramey, broke a tackle and raced 80 yards for a TD late in the first quarter. Ramey threw for 211 of his 243 yards in the first half and Keel had all three of his catches for 146 yards in the opening two quarters.
After a Mills field goal closed the gap to 14-3, Travon Davis bulled his way up the middle for a 28-yard TD run and a 20-3 lead. That score was set up by a 55-yard kickoff return from Cedric Asseh.
Milton scored again with 59 seconds left before halftime, but South wasn't done thanks to a botched Milton squib kick that the Comets recovered at the 46-yard line. They needed just four plays to score, the first two passes of 17 and 32 yards to Keel and Tyrone Atchison. Morrison finished off the march with a 4-yard TD run.
South never threatened to score again, but its defense made the 27 points hold up.
"Milton caused us problems up front (on defense) in the second half," Small said. "That's a good football team. We knew this game wasn't over at halftime. But when adversity hit us late, our kids stepped up."