Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan — North Gwinnett offensive lineman Andy Kwon (63) celebrates the touchdown made by wide receiver Caleb Scott (9) against Collins Hill during high school football action at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee on Friday. North Gwinnett defeated Collins Hill 38-24.
SUWANEE -- North Gwinnett's defense made a promise at halftime of Friday's game.
After giving up 24 points to Collins Hill, the Bulldogs vowed not to give up another point the rest of the game.
They kept their promise.
No. 8 ranked North held Collins Hill scoreless and linebacker Ben Carswell added an interception returned for a touchdown as the Bulldogs won 38-24.
"Wow. I'm just impressed with our defense," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "They took a challenge and lived up to it."
The win puts North Gwinnett (7-1, 5-1 region) in position to lock up the No. 2 seed in Region 7-AAAAAA with two weeks left in the regular season.
"It's big," North linebacker Carter Cross said of the victory. "This was kind of like a playoff maker."
Collins Hill (5-3, 4-2) scored on all four of its possessions of the first half, but it was a different story in the second half. The Eagles managed just 47 yards of total offense. They didn't help themselves with seven penalties for 56 yards. To make it even worse, quarterback Brett Sheehan was hurt at the end of the third quarter.
"We would move the ball and then have penalties and that would kill us," Collins Hill coach Kevin Reach said.
After North missed a 46-yard field goal to try and tie the game, the defense pushed the Eagles back to their own one. Dante Sawyer had a sack of Sheehan and the county's leader passer was hurt trying to recover a fumble.
Collins Hill had to punt out the back of its end zone and that gave North great field position. A flea-flicker set up Michael Haynes' 38-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Scott to give North a 28-24 lead.
"That was great execution on their part, but the defense set the table for that," Sphire said.
A hobbling Sheehan came back on the field and threw an interception to Carswell, who returned it 15 yards for a touchdown to go ahead 35-24. Sheehan was 16 of 26 for 205 yards and completed passes to seven different receivers.
"That kind of pushed us over the hump," Sphire said.
Bobby Young led North's defense with 13 tackles, while North Carolina commitment Donnie Miles added seven and Maryland commitment Jalen Brooks made five.
"We just had to play better defense. We weren't playing North Gwinnett defense," Cross said.
Sheehan tried to play the fourth quarter, but eventually came out for backup Tyler Herman.
After North's Michael D'Angola kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 38-24 lead, Herman guided the Eagles to the 14. But a failed fourth-down conversion with 1:35 left in the game ended Collins Hill's comeback attempt.
"I'm proud of our kids. It was hard-fought game," Reach said. "The penalties killed us every time we had momentum. Our kids' effort was great."
Collins Hill and North traded scores to start the first half. The Bulldogs' Caleb Scott scored on an 18-yard pass from Haynes and Cam Lewis scored on a two-yard run. Haynes had another solid game by going 15 of 25 for 256 yards. He also had 73 yards rushing.
Collins Hill got a 42-yard TD run by Tyler Henderson and Sheehan's 25-yard TD run tied the game 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.
"Everything we worked on, worked," Reach said. "We had them schemed up and the kids make plays. We played pretty good.
The Eagles came up with the only defensive stop of the half when Quention Jones knocked down a pass on third down. Daniel Fish and Joseph Park each had nine tackles, while Rhyan England made eight.
Julian Williams made a 72-yard one-handed catch to set up Grant McDonald's 10-yard TD catch. McDonald was the game's leading receiver with six catches for 51 yards.
North responded with a two-yard TD run by Nick Andryusky to tie the game again 21-21 with 4:31 left in the half.
Collins Hill's Mitchell Blanchard kicked a 35-yard field with 11 seconds left in the half to give the Eagles a 24-21 lead.
But the scoring ended there as North's defense stepped up in the second half.
"I feel like we grew up a lot more in the second half. We made a promise and we honored it," Cross said.