Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan tries to scramble out of the pocket as Norcross' Warren McWilliams (34) and Lorenzo Carter (25) go after him during Friday's game.
Junior defensive end Lorenzo Carter, already a coveted college prospect, has made a huge impact in his first season at Norcross.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder -- who already has scholarship offers from the likes of Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Penn State and Tennessee -- had three sacks in Friday night's win over Collins Hill. He now has a county-best 11 sacks on the season.
"He's come in and done an outstanding job for us," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "Marcus (Jackson) was a great player here, so he's got a great mentor teaching him. Jahmal (Jones) and Cole Kisner, those three defensive ends all did a good job (vs. Collins Hill)."
North's Sawyer back to making big plays
After his monster game in North Gwinnett's season opener, Dante Sawyer has been obscure in recent weeks.
The North defensive lineman returned to standout form on Friday against Mill Creek. Sawyer intercepted a pass and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown to clinch the Bulldog's 47-28 win.
"I just knew the down and distance and what was going to happen based on film," Sawyer said. "We stepped up."
Sawyer's interception didn't surprise head coach Bob Sphire.
"He does that to us all the time in practice," Sphire said. "We can't run screens on him. That wast the first thing I said. It's about time because he does that in practice all the time."
Sawyer had 16 tackles, five QB hurries, two sacks and two forced fumbles in North's win over Colquitt County. The big game prompted Sawyer to pick up scholarship offers from North Carolina and Ohio State.
The junior was hampered by an injured ankle in recent weeks, but said he's healthy now.
Bulldogs running game improving
For the first part of the season, North Gwinnett's running game was irrelevant. The Bulldogs' leading rusher was quarterback Michael Haynes.
North moved slot receiver Cam Lewis to running back and the senior has flourished. Lewis rushed for 117 yards on 17 carries and had two TDs in Friday's 47-28 win over Mill Creek.
"Moving Cam from the slot to the one-back spot has really helped solidified our offense in terms of being more complete," North head coach Bob Sphire said.
Lewis has started the last three games at running back for the Bulldogs. He rushed for 96 yards last week and turned in another big performance on Friday.
Lewis had a 39-yard TD run on third down in the third quarter and a three-yard TD before the half ended.
Carson gets to scoring
Chris Carson entered Friday night already leading the county with 725 yards rushing, but through all his yards, he wasn't finding that last stretch of grass at the end of the field.
His six touchdowns tied him with Archer's Ernest Alexander for fourth in Gwinnett County.
But that changed Friday. The senior running back scored four times and rushed for 169 yards in Parkview's win over Dacula. He now has 10 touchdowns on the season as he approaches the 1,000 mark.
Apparently, neither Archer coach Andy Dyer nor Central Gwinnett Todd Wofford believe in the old adage that if a team has two frontline quarterbacks, it has no frontline quarterbacks.
Both rotated signal callers liberally during their Region 8-AAAAAA game Friday at Central, with junior K.J. Parmer and sophomore Gabe Tiller seeing plenty of snaps under center for the visiting Tigers, while senior Eman Westmoreland and junior Nate Hartford sharing quarterback duties for the host Black Knights.
Granted, Central did so more out of necessity, with Westmoreland still hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered against South Gwinnett two weeks ago.
But while Hartford's numbers (13 rushing carries, 3 yards, 7-for-11 passing, 20 yards) were modest compared to Westmoreland (13-for-28, 171 yards, TD), Wofford saw enough from the understudy, plus the occasional disruptions it caused Archer's defense in the second half, to consider using the rotation more this season.
"It's something we're going to keep working at," Wofford said. "Nate's the future quarterback. It's good to see him come out and have some success. It's a good change of pace."
Meanwhile, Archer has used its rotation periodically throughout its schedule, though not quite so much since Parmer moved to receiver more or less permanently early in the season.
But like Wofford, Dyer liked what he saw from the change of pace in going from Tiller, a stronger-armed passer, to Parmer, who ran for 106 yards on just seven carries Friday night, to consider utilizing the rotation more over the rest of the season.
"We did it a little more (Friday) night, moreso for what (Central was) giving us defensively," Dyer said. "K.J. was able to come in and flip field position for us a couple times running some option stuff. That was a big help for us.
"It's situational. It just depends week-to-week what we're seeing defensively whether or not the scheme will hold up."
Hat trick for Ezzell
Coming up with a game-changing play is a rare enough opportunity for a linebacker, but Central's J.B. Ezzell managed an odd defensive version of a hat trick during the Black Knights' loss to Archer.
The 5-foot-9, 205-pound senior intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and was credited for a sack and a safety when he forced Tiller into an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone.
"What else could he do?" Wofford asked rhetorically. "He did everything he could possibly do to help us win."
Laying the foundation
When Bill Ballard was the head coach at Peachtree Ridge from 2007 to 2010, he put together an impressive 36-14 record, making the playoffs three of those four seasons with a state runner up finish in 2008.
Now in his second year at White County, the former Lion chief has already started to direct that AAA program into the same direction.
His first season last year didn't go so well as the Warriors finished 3-7, his first losing season as a head coach, but 2012 has been a different story.
Even after his team lost 49-14 to Buford on Friday night, Ballards' Warriors are still in the thick of playoff hunt in Region 7-AAA at 2-1 with an overall record of 4-2.
"We've been getting our guys in the weight room," Ballard said. "We've been working hard to get stronger."
Also helping his team gain strength and experience is the installation of a ninth-grade team to go along with his JV program. Those ninth grades also benefitted from a new weight room installed at the middle school to help them get a head start on their weight lifting.
"We're trying to put things into place to be competitive," Ballard said, who also acknowledged that his experience at the larger Peachtree Ridge and Tucker have been invaluable in revamping White County. "We have what it takes to build a program. It's a process and it takes time but we're going in the right direction."
Lions' ground game thrives in Davis' absence
Peachtree Ridge went into Friday's key region matchup with Mountain View without one of its top rushers, junior Walden Davis. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior was held out due to injury. So the Lions leaned more heavily on Jordan Ellis in the game.
A combination of hard running and great blocking helped Ellis put up some great numbers. The junior got only three carries for 12 yards in the first quarter, but he finished the first half with 137 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries en route to a 10-6 Lions lead at the half. Ellis kept going in the second half, finishing with 207 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
But the run game didn't stop without him. Junior Trevor Campbell entered the game in the fourth quarter. He proceeded to run for a 46-yard touchdown on his third carry and ended up with an 11-carry, 104-yard game. All of it came in the fourth quarter.
Between six different runners, Peachtree Ridge overall rushed 49 times for 339 yards and four scores.
Signs of progress for Meadowcreek's offense
A look at the statistical leaders from Meadowcreek's game at Habersham Central this past Friday might give the impression the Mustangs got their first win of the season -- and first in over four years.
Meadowcreek got nearly 100 yards rushing from running back Ryan Moore, nearly 100 yards receiving from wideout Kortez Towels and over 125 yards passing from quarterback Patrick Mills.
But youth, inexperience and size in the interiorlines have been tough to overcome for Meadowcreek in the 31-12 loss to Habersham Central.
The Raiders piled up nearly 400 yards on the ground and only attempted twopasses in getting their first win of the year.
"When you line up and there are seniors and juniors ontheir side looking back at your sophomores and freshmen, that's goingto be tough when you add in the lack of experience and strength," Meadowcreek head coach Deario Grimmage said. "Then you add in strength and size and it's tough to overcome. But our kids keep fighting and that's all you can ask."
The Mustangs will have a tough time breaking this 44-game losing streakthat dates back to 2008 withCollins Hill, Mountain View, Peachtree Ridge and Norcrossremaining onthe schedule.
-- Sports editor Will Hammock, staff writers Ben Beitzel, Brandon Brigman and David Friedlander, senor correspondent Scott Smith and staff correspondents Steve Argo and Michael Buckelew contributed to this report.