LAWRENCEVILLE -- It wasn't the prettiest game Archer coach Andy Dyer has seen his team play, but he won't argue with the result.
Sean Fowler ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, K.J. Parmer added 106 rushing yards and the Tigers made just enough plays -- including a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown by Trevellous Cheek in the fourth quarter -- to overcome their own mistakes and score a 23-8 win at Central Gwinnett on Friday night.
"We'll take it," Dyer said after Archer moved to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in Region 8-AAAAAA. "We were big-time sloppy on offense. We'd push it down the field fast and then stall in the red zone. You can't do that. Defense was the story (Friday) night. They did a tremendous job."
Actually, the Tigers dominated most of the statistics, rolling up 310 total yards to 188 for Central (3-3, 1-3), yet they could never shake the Black Knights, who stayed in the game behind a game effort led by J.B. Ezzell on the defensive end, and Eman Westmoreland, who fought through his still sore ankle to throw for 171 yards and a score, on offense.
Archer did pretty much whatever it wanted throughout the first half, but had trouble getting out of its own way.
Zach Wachholz's 34-yard field goal and a 50-yard touchdown run by Fowler in the first two possessions gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead less than midway though the first quarter, but they squandered three more trips deep into Central territory with turnovers.
The first came on a deflected pass wound up in the hands of DeShawn Oliver for an interception on the Black Knights' 3-yard line late in the first quarter.
Archer eventually got the ball back and drove as deep as the Central 6 before an errant pitch out wound up in the hands of Ezzell to squelch that scoring opportunity.
The Tigers did get another field goal from Wachholz, a 25-yarder with 3:24 left in the first half, to take a 13-0 lead, and got another scoring opportunity by holding the Central on downs at midfield with 29.9 seconds left.
But Ezzell came up with another turnover -- this time, an interception -- to give Central the ball at its own 43 with 14.6 seconds left.
And the Black Knights, who managed just 58 yards and three first downs in the first half, got a chance to get on the board when Westmoreland hooked up with Justin Brownlee on a 31-yard completion with 4.3 seconds remaining. Brownlee finished with 10 catches for 126 yards.
But one last Westmoreland pass towards the end zone was broken up by Cheek at the buzzer, sending Archer into intermission with its 13-0 lead intact.
Central was still in the game, and the Black Knights tried to make a move early in third quarter, taking the second-half kickoff and driving 66 yards in 12 plays down to the Archer 3, only to come away empty when the Tigers defense stiffened and stopped Johnathan Hawkins at the 2 on fourth-and-goal.
"Not scoring from the (3-)yard line screws up a whole lot," Central coach Todd Wofford said. "We've got to be able to score from (that deep in the red zone). The defense gave up some plays early, but played their butts off the rest of the game. Eman is still gimped up, but is still giving it everything he's got. When a kid puts it on the line like that, you've got to perform. ... The offense has got to produce."
But the Black Knights still had momentum and field position, which Ezzell took advantage of three plays later then he rushed in on right end and forced Gabe Tiller into an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone for a safety that cut Archer's lead to 13-2 with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
And Central's offense did start to produce after the ensuing free kick, marching 62 yards in six plays, with a limping Westmoreland hitting Chris Shelling on a 32-yard scoring strike that pulled the Black Knights to within 13-8 following a missed two-point conversion attempt with 4:03 left in the quarter.
But after Central regained possession deep in its own territory, Archer's defense came up with a big play that turned the game back in its favor for good two plays into the fourth quarter.
A heavy rush forced a quick throw from Westmoreland, which Cheek picked off and returned 24 yards for a score to extended the Tigers' lead to more comfortable 20-8 with 11:38 to play.
"Trey had a big pick-six, which was huge in that time of the ball game," Dyer said. "That's his first high school touchdown, and it was a huge play in the momentum of the game. So, I'm ecstatic for him."
Wachholz later added his third field goal of the game, this one from 38 yards out, and Archer's defense held off four more Central possessions to seal the win.