Photo: Karl L. Moore Mill Creek running back coach Rondeau tries to comfort senior Matthew Pursell (3) following Mill Creeks' loss Friday night at North Cobb.
ACWORTH -- It took a while, but the anticipated shootout in Mill Creek's Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal game against North Cobb finally developed in the second half.
While the Hawks got off nearly as many clean shots as the host Warriors, they also shot themselves in the foot too many times -- six, to be exact.
Those six turnovers, along with a big second half from North Cobb playmakers like Tyler Queen and Xavier Borishade, allowed the Warriors just the room they needed to outgun the Hawks 42-35 Friday night at Emory Sewell Stadium.
"We had an opportunity to win the game," Mill Creek coach Shannon Jarvis said after his team's season came to an end at 9-4. "At the end of the day, they made more plays than we did."
The six plays North Cobb's defense made -- including two interceptions by James King, plus an interception and fumble recovery by Cameron Albright -- all came at very opportune times for an opportunistic Warriors (11-2) team that won its way into the state semifinals, where they will travel to Lovejoy, for the first time in school history.
Two of the turnovers occurred with Mill Creek driving inside the North Cobb 10-yard line, and four of the six takeaways led to touchdowns -- two during a third-quarter rally in which the Warriors rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit.
Perhaps the biggest came a few minutes after North Cobb took the second-half kickoff and dashed 55 yards in six plays and just 1:28, with Queen hitting Borishade on a 26-yard scoring strike to cut Mill Creek's lead to 21-14.
It looked like Jacorey Lewis would give the Hawks a quick answer when he broke free for what turned out to be a 40-yard run, and needed to beat just one more would-be tackler for the score.
But North Cobb's Latrell Gibbs -- who also had an interception later in the game -- not only caught Lewis, but stripped the ball from him, allowing Emmanuel Slaughter to recover and give the Warriors the ball on their own 6, which they eventually turned into a touchdown when Tyler Queen hit Borishade on a 66-yard completion to set up his own 1-yard sneak, tying the game at 21-21 with 4:43 left in the third quarter.
Another fumble on the next Mill Creek snap set North Cobb up again, and the Warriors capitalized just seconds later to take a 28-21 lead when Albright hit Borishade -- who had seven catches for 147 yards on the night -- on an end-around option pass fro a 23-yard score with 4:30 left in the quarter.
"Latrell Gibbs came up with the strip when big Jacorey Lewis was headed into the end zone," North Cobb coach Shane Queen said. "That was a huge play. And then he came back on the other end and got the pick. Two big defensive plays."
The Gibbs interception the elder Queen referred to came with Mill Creek had tied the game on Daniel David's 39-yard scoring strike to Michael Cheeks and the Hawks threatening to take the lead again, and gave North Cobb possession on its own 5 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Once again, the Warriors cashed in, with the younger Queen, who was 14 of 24 for 224 yards passing on the night, directing a 10-play, 95-yard drive and finishing it with his third of four TD runs on the day, a 1-yard sneak that put North Cobb in front 35-28 with 7:55.
But after another turnover helped North Cobb push the lead to 42-28 with 5:13 left, Mill Creek refused to quit.
David completed six passes during a 12-play, 74-yard drive -- including two fourth-down conversions -- before hitting Lewis out of the backfield for a 9-yard TD to pull the Hawks to within 42-35 with 2:49 left and all three of their timeouts remaining.
But another mistake on North Cobb's next possession proved just as costly to Mill Creek as their turnovers.
This time, it was a 5-yard encroachment penalty on third and 5 from the North Cobb 25 that gave the Warriors a first down with less than two minutes left and allowed them to run out the clock.
"Whoever wins the whole thing is going to be the team that protects the ball the most," Jarvis said. "It's anybody's championship to win. You've just got to protect the ball. We created some turnovers, too, and kept getting momentum shifts back and forth."
One of those shifts came on the first play of the second quarter with Mill Creek trailing 7-0.
A Mill Creek defender managed to rip the ball away from North Cobb running back J'Vonte Herrod, with B.J. Harmon pouncing on the loose ball at the Warriors' 17.
Five plays later, the Hawks cashed in, with Lewis, who finished the night with 154 yards on 26 carries, diving in from a yard out to pull Mill Creek even at 7-7 with 10:14 left in the first half.
The Mill Creek defense then continued to stiffen, holding the Warriors to just 28 yards and a single first down over the remainder of the quarter.
Meanwhile, the offense began to get cranked up, with two big drives ending up in Daniel David TD runs -- one from a yard out with 6:18 left in the half, and the other on a 16-yard scramble with 3:11 left in the half -- to send the Hawks into intermission with a 21-7 lead.