LAWRENCEVILLE — Playing a sloppy and listless football game, Dacula rallied with a 13-point fourth quarter to overcome an upset bid from host Central Gwinnett in a 20-16 victory in Region 8-AAAAAA Friday night.
The Falcons, who improve to 6-2 overall and 5-0 in the region, survived to set up a region title game with Buford next week. Kyle Efford's 227 rushing yards helped escape with the win.
“Our execution was the worst it's been all year,” Dacula head coach Clint Jenkins said. “Give credit to Central Gwinnett because they have some great skill and speed on the edge, but we need to do a much better job next week (against Buford).”
The game started with a bang on the second play when Central Gwinnett’s Justin Johnson connected with Mekhi Mews on a flanker screen. Mews broke one tackle and raced 67 yards for the score. Gabriel Ivanstanin’s extra point gave the Black Knights (1-8, 0-5) a 7-0 lead.
The lead lasted one play. Two if you count the false start against Dacula on first down. Facing a first-and-15 from its own 29, Efford took the handoff and raced off tackle and covered 71 yards for the touchdown. Nick Daniel's conversion knotted the score just over one minute into the game.
Central Gwinnett moved to the Falcons’ 37 on its next possession, however Festus Davies stepped in front of the intended receiver and his interception gave Dacula possession on its 44. The Falcons moved to the Central 30, where it faced a fourth-and-eight. However, Blaine Jenkins’ pass for Nick Nelson was incomplete to end the drive.
Early in the second quarter, Central Gwinnett’s Amir Taylor intercepted a Blaine Jenkins pass, the first of his two in the game, and returned it to the Dacula 15. In a key moment, the Falcons appeared to intercept the ball to regain the possession but were flagged for a horse collar tackle of Johnson as he threw the pass. Central was given another chance to score but the drive stalled and Ivanstanin was called on for a 27-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good and the Black Knights moved to a 10-7 lead.
Dacula had a chance to tie the score on its next possession, moving as far as the Central 12. However the drive stalled and Daniel’s attempt at a 29-yard field goal was wide left.
Dacula took the second half kickoff and drove to the Central 19 but a fumble by the Falcons was recovered by Central Gwinnett’s Daniel Hebbert.
On their next possession, the Falcons moved to the Central 32, but an illegal man downfield penalty followed by a low and fumbled shotgun snap thwarted the drive.
After the Dacula punt, Johnson connected with Eldrick Mason on a slant pattern completion. Mason made a one-handed grab and took it all the way to the Falcons' 10 for a 70-yard gain. A Johnson sweep moved the ball to the one as the third quarter ended. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Johnson rolled right and threw back left where Mason cradled the ball for the touchdown. The extra point was blocked to give Central a 16-7 lead.
Dacula answered immediately as Percy Williams gathered the kickoff in stride and raced through the wedge and down the left sideline for a touchdown. The extra point brought Dacula within 16-14, 19 seconds into the final quarter.
“Percy has done that a couple of times for us this season,” Jenkins said. “It was a spark that got us going.”
Inspired by the sudden turn of events, Dacula shut down the next Black Knight drive and took over after the punt on the Central 45. Four Efford runs later, the Falcons had their first lead of the game 20-16, the final five yards accounting for the score. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Central failed to gather a first down and punted back to the Dacula. Efford proceeded to salt the game away with six straight runs and picking up two first downs.
Dacula, Central Gwinnett 0
Dacula 7 0 0 13 – 20
Central Gwinnett 7 3 0 6 – 16
Central: Mekhi Mews 67 pass from Justin Johnson (Gabriel Ivanstanin kick) 11:07
Dacula: Kyle Efford 71 run (Nick Daniel kick) 10:47
Central: Ivanstanin 27 FG, 9:58
Central: Eldrick Mason 1 pass from Johnson (kick failed) 11:53
Dacula: Percy Williams 80 yard kickoff return (Daniel kick) 11:41
Dacula: Efford 5 run (conversion failed) 7:45