SUWANEE – North Gwinnett head coach Bill Stewart knew Friday night’s game against cross-county powerhouse Grayson would resemble nothing short of a heavyweight prize fight. And it did.
What he didn’t know was that his running back Tyler Goodson would throw for a first down on a fourth-and-7 to eventually setup the game-winning touchdown in the Bulldogs 35-28 win over the Rams in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The game between the first seed from Region 6 and the second seed from Region 8 was tied at 28 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium. North Gwinnett faced a fourth-and-7 with the football on the Grayson 32-yard line. Instead of attempting the 49-yard field goal, the Bulldogs’ offense took the field without their quarterback Jimmy Uruza. Lining up in a wildcat position was Goodson.
“I didn’t know (offensive coordinator Steven) Jackson was calling that,” Stewart said. “When they lined up in wildcat, I was sitting there like, ‘what are we about to do?’ And it was awesome.”
After the senior collected the snap he took two steps to his right, turned back to his left and floated a pass down the sideline. Wide receiver Javonni Cunningham was blanketed by cornerback Jalen Alexander. Both jumped to catch the football at the same time. Both grabbed the football at the same time. And both came down with the football at the same time. But while on the ground, Cunningham did just enough to wrestle the football away from Alexander and show the officials he made an 11-yard reception to keep the Bulldogs drive alive.
“I had to just put enough touch on to where Javonni (Cunningham) could go up and grab it. They both came down with it at the same time and it came down to who wanted it more and our receiver wanted it more,” Goodson said. “We practice (that play) a lot. In practice, it is actually wide open.”
Two plays later, Goodson kept the football in his own hands and rushed up the middle and into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs up with 1:37 left in the game. Goodson was the catalyst for the 12-play, 75-yard game-winning drive that took 5:30.
Behind a stout offensive line paced by senior tackle and Georgia commit Warren Ericson, the Bulldogs put up 35 points on a Grayson defense that came into Friday night allowing opponents just 9.6 points per game. Quarterback Jimmy Uruza threw for 212 yards and one touchdown while Goodson rushed for 156 yards and three scores.
“Our offensive line was awesome tonight and Tyler Goodson – I think he is one of the best running backs in the state and he proved it tonight,” Stewart said.
The Bulldogs (11-1) had two separate 14-point leads in the game. However, both times Grayson (10-2) managed to tie the game up.
Goodson’s first touchdown early in the second quarter put the Bulldogs up 14-0. The Rams wouldn’t go away as they marched down the field on their next two drives to tie the game at 14. Running back Camron Thompson punched the football into the end zone from four yards out and on the following drive, quarterback D.J. Irons hit wide receiver Jaquavius Lane in stride for a 44-yard touchdown strike.
North Gwinnett scored a touchdown 35 seconds later to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. Goodson scored on a 2-yard run after a 60-yard pass from Uruza to L.J. Fisher who took the ball down to the Rams’ 2-yard line. Uruza and Fisher connected for a 31-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 28-14 lead.
The Rams answered. A huge kickoff return by Jaylen Haynes set Grayson up at the North Gwinnett 20. Irons ran in a 2-yard touchdown two plays later. And before the quarter ended, Thompson added his second rushing touchdown of the evening to tie the game at 28.
“We knew they were going to get their plays. They are just too good,” Stewart said. “I told the guys to hang in there and we never had panic on our face.”
In the most critical junctures of the final quarter the Bulldogs defense came up with big plays. Of the three Grayson possessions in the fourth quarter, all three ended in a sack by the Bulldogs’ defense. North Gwinnett finished the game with six sacks, led by linebacker Jayden McDonald’s three.
“Coach always tells us when they go into an empty (set) we are going to blitz, and I knew the tackle couldn’t hold me. He was too slow. So, I told coach to send me every time and it would be a sack,” McDonald said.
With Grayson facing a fourth-and-9 at its 21, North Gwinnett defensive end Nicholas Pucciarello beat his man, sacked Irons and secured the victory for Bulldogs.
‘’This had to be the best game in the state tonight, no question.” Stewart said. “I don’t know what happened with all the other games, but as a fan I don’t think there could have been a more entertaining game to watch tonight.”
North Gwinnett will host the Marietta Blue Devils next Friday at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium in the Quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs. Marietta, who received an at-large bid to make the playoffs, defeated Woodstock 38-28 in the round of 16.
“I know they have a great quarterback. Obviously, they’re in the Quarterfinals with us, so they are a great football team. At this point, everyone can play now,” Stewart said.
2:55 – 7-0: 14-yard touchdown run by Jovanni Cunningham
9:59 – 14-0: 14-yard touchdown run by Tyler Goodson
4:50 – 14-7: 4-yard touchdown run by Camron Thompson
1:11 – 14-14: 44-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Irons to Jaquavius Lane
:36 – 21-14: 2-yard touchdown run by Goodson
7:40 – 28-14: 31-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Uruza to L.J. Fisher
7:01 – 28-21: 2-yard touchdown run by Irons
2:14 – 28-28: 14-yard touchdown run by Thompson
1:37 – 35-28: 16-yard touchdown run by Goodson
QB D.J. Irons – 9/13, 120 yards, 1 touchdown; 16 carries, 66 yards, 1 touchdown
RB Camron Thompson – 15 carries, 68 yards, 2 touchdowns
WR Jaquavius Lane – 2 catches, 45 yards, 1 touchdown
WR Kenyon Jackson – 3 catches, 60 yards
QB Jimmy Uruza – 12/16, 212 yards, 1 touchdown
RB Tyler Goodson – 24 carries, 156 yards, 3 touchdowns; 2 catches 23 yards; 1/1, 9 yards
RB Devin Crosby – 6 rushes, 20 yards
WR Jovanni Cunningham – 3 catches, 12 yards; 1 carry, 14 yards, 1 touchdown
WR Josh Downs – 3 catches, 75 yards
WR L.J. Fisher – 5 catches, 113 yards, 1 touchdown