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North pulls away from Duluth in the second half

DULUTH – Locked up in a battle with Duluth at halftime, North Gwinnett scored a pair of touchdowns in a span of 1:23 midway through the third quarter and the state’s top-ranked team in Class AAAAAA eventually pulled away for a 52-21 win in Region 7-AAAAAA action Friday night.

North (5-0, 3-0) found itself hanging onto a 17-13 lead after two quarters, but the Bulldogs quickly regained control with the two quick scores to lead 31-13.

C.J. Leggett got it started with an 8-yard run with 7:37 left in the third quarter, then Leggett scored again from 19 yards out with 6:14 to go to give North the 18-point lead.

Duluth (1-5, 1-3) did answer with a TD pass from Thad Bell to Corey Bunkley and a two-point run by Devin Terry to cut the lead back to 31-21 with 3:40 to go in the third quarter.

But North used a 5-yard pass from Hayden Sphire to Almonzo Brown with 55 seconds left in a 21-point third quarter to make it 38-21.

The Bulldogs later added Sphire’s third and final TD pass of the night on a 53-yard strike to Nate Brown and Leggett got his third score of the night on a 1-yard run to complete the scoring.

“It was a grind and a tough day at the office, but we found a way to get the win and I’m tickled with that,” said North head coach Bob Sphire. “I didn’t really have to say a whole lot at the half, because the players and coaches knew the adjustments we had to make in the second half.

“This is AAAAAA football in Georgia and it’s so competitive. We’ve got to do a better job on the practice field and make sure we’re ready every Friday night.”

Leggett finished with 125 yards on 21 carries and the three TDs.

Meanwhile, Hayden Sphire was not his best on this night, but made big throws at the right time and finished 16 of 29 with three TD tosses along with the three interceptions.

Nate Brown led North receivers with five catches for 97 yards and two TDs.

It looked like North would run away it as the Bulldogs put 17 points on the scoreboard in the opening quarter.

North went 54 yards in four plays as Sphire connected with Nate Brown on a 24-yard scoring pass less than four minutes into the game to make 7-0.

After Michael D’Angola added a 24-yard field goal to make it 10-0, Austin Kim came up with an interception to set up the North for its second touchdown.

Leggett banged in from a yard out to increase the North advantage to 17-0 with only 55 seconds left in the quarter.

But Duluth finally gained some momentum and put 13 points on the board in the second quarter, thanks to a tough defense that forced three first-half interceptions of Sphire.

Tyler Davis hauled in a 15-pass from Thad Bell as the Wildcats completed a six-play, 88-yard drive to cut the North lead to 17-7.

A 38-yard pass from Bell to Khalil Newton put Duluth in business.

Duluth then added a pair of Nikolai Iotav 42-yard field goals in the final seven minutes, including the second one with just four seconds left in the opening half to make it 17-13.

Bell finished the game 10 of 28 for 124 yards, two TD passes and pair of interceptions for Duluth while Theo Burnette led the Wildcats’ rushing attack with 128 yards on 19 carries.

NORTH 52, DULUTH 21

North 17 0 21 14 — 52

Duluth 0 13 8 0 — 21

FIRST QUARTER

North: Nate Brown 24 pass from Hayden Sphire (Michael D’Angola kick) 8:49

North: D’Angola 24 FG, 2:29

North: C.J. Leggett 1 run (D’Angola kick) :55

SECOND QUARTER

Duluth: Tyler Davis 15 pass from Thad Bell (Nikolai Iotav) 10:57

Duluth: Iotav 42 FG, 6::59

Duluth: Iotav 42 FG, :04

THIRD QUARTER

North: Leggett 8 run (D’Angola kick) 7:37

North: Leggett 19 run (D’Angola kick) 6:14

Duluth: Corey Bunkley 23 pass from Bell (Devin Terry run) 3:40

North: Almonzo Brown 5 pass from Sphire (D’Angola kick) :55

FOURTH QUARTER

North: Nate Brown 53 pass from Sphire (D’Angola kick) 6:18

North: Leggett 1 run (D’Angola kick) 1:21