Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett running back Joseph Jones (2) is dragged down by Mill Creek's Brandon Holley (39) during Friday night's game.
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SUWANEE -- Perhaps the best word to describe North Gwinnett's 29-7 win over Mill Creek on Friday night at Tom Robinson Stadium is balance.
The No. 6 state-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-0) showed plenty of it in maintaining their share of the Region 7-AAAAA lead.
Offensively, Joe Jones led the running game by dashing for 125 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while Scotty Hosch led the North aerial assault by completing 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards and two TDs, both to Chad Scott.
The Bulldogs' defense leveled the scales by holding a normally prolific Mill Creek (4-4, 1-4) offense to just 56 yards on the ground a week after it had chewed up 368 yards against Collins Hill, and had the Hawks shut out until the game's final minute.
"I thought we moved the ball pretty well," North coach Bob Sphire said. "And I felt like our defense was playing really well. ... First off, we were able to minimize the big play. Secondly, I thought we were very physical."
The closest thing either team got to a really big play throughout the evening came on the opening kickoff, when Donnie Miles took it 46 yards to set the Bulldogs up in Mill Creek territory at the 45-yard line.
Five plays later, Jones burst up the middle for 13 yards for the touchdown to put North up 7-0 just 1:30 into the game.
But from that point, both defenses began to stiffen, holding the opposing offenses scoreless the next five combined possessions.
Mill Creek had perhaps the best opportunity by taking its first possession and grinding out eight plays and draining almost four minutes off the clock.
But the drive stalled on the North 45 when Carter Governale was stopped short on fourth and less than a yard, sending momentum back to the Bulldogs.
"With North, if you get the ball in a scoring area, you've got to get points out of it," Mill Creek coach Shannon Jarvis said. "When you get opportunities, you've got to take advantage of them. If you don't, they're good enough offensively to take the ball, and they're going to score their points."
And North finally began to get those points late in the first half.
The Bulldogs moved 73 yards in nine plays before Hosch connected with Scott on a 14-yard scoring strike. The extra point was blocked, but North's lead grew to 13-0 with 3:07 left in the first half.
After a quick three-and-out from Mill Creek, the Bulldogs struck again right before half, with Alexjandro Arroyave booting a 35-yard field goal as the buzzer sounded to send North into intermission with a 16-0 lead and plenty of momentum.
"That's when we start rolling," said Bulldogs defensive lineman and recent Mississippi State commit Jordan Washington, who was a big presence most of the evening, including combining with Justin Alibi for a first-half sack. "That's when we get it locked in. ... The emotion gets going and we just go with it."
The Bulldogs kept the positive emotions going in the third quarter when a Miles interception set up another score, with Hosch hitting Scott again to convert on fourth down for a 16-yard TD pass to push the lead to 23-0 with 6:21 left in the period.
Arroyave added a pair of 37-yard field goals to make the score 29-0 before Mill Creek finally got on the board late in the game.
The Hawks rolled up 79 of their 217 total yards in the final 4:06 of the game, with John Russ completing 6 of 8 passes for 64 yards, including a 12-yard scoring strike to Joey St. Clair-Everette with 50 seconds left to finally get Mill Creek on the board and cut North's lead to 29-7.
Russ finished the night 13 of 23 with an interception for 161 yards and the score.