Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan — North Gwinnett celebrates their 28-10 victory over Grayson with offensive coordinator coach Traye Moore in the locker room after the second round of Class AAAAAA state high school football playoff game in Loganville Friday.
LOGANVILLE -- Michael D'Angola booted a game-winner in North Gwinnett's season opening upset of state-ranked Colquitt County.
The senior kicker was busy again on Friday.
D'Angola kicked four field goals as No. 5 North Gwinnett upset defending state champion Grayson 28-10.
"They are a great football team. I'm really proud of our boys," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said.
D'Angola kicked field goals of 36, 32, 37 and 29 yards to put North (11-1) in the quarterfinals, where it will travel to Lovejoy next week.
"(Grayson is) so good on defense," Sphire said. "We moved the ball and got in the red zone, but they are really difficult to punch it in on. (D'Angola) kept banging them through."
Grayson (10-2) began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation after winning the state championship last season and a roster full of Division I prospects. The Rams lost their region opener to Parkview with more than 100 yards in penalties and four turnovers. It was the same formula against North. Grayson, which won the Region 8-AAAAAA title, had three lost fumbles and an interception to go along with 13 penalties for 115 yards.
"We just turned the ball over and couldn't overcome it," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said.
Grayson came into the game averaging 42 points and was held to its fewest points since the 22-7 loss to Parkview.
Dante Sawyer forced a fumble and recovered it on the game's opening drive. The defensive lineman also had an interception that set up North's final touchdown of the game. The junior finished with three tackles, one for loss and a sack.
Bobby Young led the defense with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, while Brett Byerly had seven tackles and C.J. James made six stops.
"Our defense stepped up big. That was a team effort, but our defense really played big," Sphire said. "They are a fabulous football team and can run the ball down your throat. It's a physical game and our guys knew they had to go in there and go to war."
Grayson had 151 yards rushing and was led by Wayne Gallman's 43 yards. Cam Lewis led the North running game with 117 yards on 16 carries.
Grayson opened the game with a drive to the North 17. Sawyer forced quarterback David McTier to fumble the ball and Sawyer recovered the fumble. Grayson fumbled the ball eight times, losing it three times.
"That opening drive we fumbled the ball and that's kind of how it went," Conn said. "We just laid the ball all over the ground."
D'Angola kicked a 36-yard field goal and then added a 32-yard field goal to start the second quarter to give North a 6-0 lead.
North's defense forced another turnover when Carter Cross forced a fumble on McTier as he sacked him. Preston Green recovered the ball at the Grayson 25. Michael Haynes threw a 17-yard pass to Almonzo Brown to put North at the eight. Haynes was 10 of 18 passing for 97 yards with one TD.
Zach Barnes and Jack Banda sacked Haynes on third down and D'Angola kicked a 37-yard field goal to put North ahead 9-0 with 4:39 left in the half.
"Only way we took advantage in the first half was with our kicker. Michael did a great job," Sphire said.
Grayson drove to the North 19 thanks to a roughing the passer call by North on third down. Alex Louthan kicked a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half to make it 9-3.
North scored on its fourth straight possession when D'Angola kicked a 29-yard field goal to start the third quarter.
Young recovered a Grayson fumble on the next series and that set up the Bulldogs' first TD of the game.
Nate Brown threw a 15-yard TD pass to Chad Scott on a reverse pass to put North ahead 19-3.
"We thought we needed that spark," Haynes said. "We were driving the ball, we just couldn't put it in. We thought we needed a big play to get some momentum out of it."
North added to its lead when Grayson had a bad snap on the punt and got a safety to push the Bulldogs' edge to 21-3.
Sawyer's interception with 4:30 left in the game set up Haynes' 7-yard TD pass to Brown to put the game away.
Grayson scored its only touchdown on a 41-yard pass from McTier to Cory Schaeffer with 2:40 left in the game.
"This is huge just going back to the last couple of years playing them," Haynes said. "That's a heck of a football team. There's not a better win you could have against a great team like that."