Staff Photo: John Bohn The North Gwinnett team on their sideline as they play McEachern during the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
ATLANTA -- North Gwinnett's football players haven't had this feeling since Nov. 7, 2008, the last time they lost a regular-season game.
It happened again Saturday night at the Georgia Dome as the Bulldogs saw their 20-game regular-season winning streak come to an end with a 26-17 loss to McEachern in the Corky Kell Classic. North held a lead until McEachern scored the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left and added an interception return for a score as time expired.
The streak wasn't even on North head coach Bob Sphire's mind afterward. He viewed the loss as a teaching tool for an inexperienced team.
"We lost some (regular-season games) my first few years (at North) and we learned from them," Sphire said. "They actually paid dividends as we went through the season and maybe even led to greater success in the playoffs."
Saturday's loss had a particularly gut-wrenching ending for the Bulldogs, who lost for the first time in three Georgia Dome appearances.
North's defense had held onto a slim lead when McEachern took over at its own 25 with 1:50 remaining. The Indians then marched 75 yards in seven plays, with the help of a pass interference penalty, and Chris Nwagbara's 4-yard TD run with 10 seconds left put them up 20-17.
McEachern senior quarterback Trent Thompson had four big completions on the drive, capping a night when he completed 22 of 42 passes for 303 yards.
North's Scott Hosch, also a senior, had a good night, too. He was 16-for-26 passing for 194 yards with two TDs and two interceptions, including one on the game's final play that McEachern's C.J. Cody ran in for the final score as time expired.
Chad Scott had six catches for 98 yards and both North TDs, emerging as Hosch's go-to target in the opener.
"Scotty's such a heady quarterback, he manages the game out there," Sphire said. "We've got a lot of inexperienced guys out there and Scotty's doing a lot of directing on the field pre-snap. He's got a lot on his plate, so I was really pleased with his performance."
Hosch hit Scott for 21- and 28-yard TDs in the first half, giving North a 14-10 lead at intermission. The first score was set up by Alex Boyd's punt return into McEachern territory and the latter answered a controversial Indians' TD pass. Thompson had hit Amba Etta-Tawo for a 42-yard score, but the North fans and sidelines erupted after watching the replay on the Dome matrix board that showed Etta-Tawo may have dropped the ball.
However, North rebounded with a five-play scoring drive that overcame a holding penalty. The big play was a 52-yard hookup from Hosch to Donnie Miles, who rushed for a game-high 62 yards.
The Indians closed to 14-13 late in the third quarter but North's Alexjandro Arroyave hit a 26-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter to push the lead to 17-13.
But the advantage disappeared quickly when McEachern scored 13 points in the game's final 10 seconds.
Despite the ending, North got a solid effort from its defense against an Indians team filled with playmakers. Steven Burger, Jordan Washington and Dante Sawyer had a sack each for the Bulldogs, and Malcolm Jackson had a leaping interception to stop a McEachern drive at the 1-yard line.
"We know we've got a very inexperienced football team, so we're trying to get better every opportunity we get," Sphire said. "I'm proud of my guys. I'm enjoying the way we're working and we're learning."