SUWANEE -- After an emotional win last week against region rival Mill Creek, North Gwinnett avoided a letdown on Friday night as the Bulldogs rolled to a 44-6 homecoming win over Habersham Central. The win keeps the eight-ranked Bulldogs in second place in Region 7-AAAAAA at 4-1, while improving their overall record to 6-1.
While North topped the 40-point mark for the fourth week in a row, Friday's game owed much of that to the defense as the Bulldogs returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The first of those came on the game's opening play when C.J. James snared a Jake Tench pass and easily ran it in 18 yards for the the score before many of the fans had time to warm their seats.
"That first play by C.J. was an instant spark," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "He does that to us a lot in practice and I'm glad to see that we're not the only ones he does that to."
The North defense not only put 14 points on the board but it also held Habersham (1-7, 1-5) to just 67 total yards (16 passing, 51 rushing).
"It's nice to get the defense to contribute like that," Sphire said. "That's the second week in a row they've done that and when you put all three phases of the game together, you're going to put some points up."
North quarterback Michael Haynes had another solid night, passing for 191 yards on 18-of-22 attempts with three TDs, while adding 78 yards on the ground on seven carries. Two of his TD passes went to Nate Brown, one on a nine-yard pass and the other on a six-yard completion, while his third was an eight-yard completion to Michael Pucciarello. After James' interception return, North's offense kicked into gear, using just four plays to cover 52 yards on its first drive of the night, ending when Nick Andryusky raced in from 25 yards out.
The first-quarter outburst contined when Haynes hooked up with Brown for his first TD pass of the night as North opened a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.
Habersham found the scoreboard early in the second when the Raiders recovered a North fumble and turned it into three points when Juan Domingo connected on a 24-yard field goal. Domingo was Habersham's best weapon on offense as he later converted his second field goal of the night in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard kick.
Pucciarello's TD catch came on the possession after Domingo's first field goal to push North's lead to 28-3. The defense then added its second score on the ensuing possession when Jalen Brooks returned an interception 27 yards for a 35-3 halftime lead.
With a running clock the entire second half, North picked up one more TD on Haynes' third TD pass of the night, while Michael D'Angola came through witha 35-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. Sphire was able to give four of his quarterbacks playing time and the quartet spread the ball around, connecting with 11 different receivers. Brown led the team with five catches for 49 yards and two scores, while Pucciarello caught three passes for 20 yards and one TD.