Central Gwinnett's Eman Westmoreland (10)
LAWRENCEVILLE -- In a game that featured 87 points and 970 yards of total offense, it came down to a defensive stop to decide it.
Battling back and forth all night long, Central Gwinnett's defense finally came to the rescue to stop a last-ditch drive by Clarke Central as the Black Knights pulled out a 45-42 win over the Gladiators.
Central Gwinnett improves to 2-0 overall while Clarke Central drops to 0-2 for the first time since 2003.
The win was just the second all-time for Central Gwinnett in 13 meetings with Clarke Central.
After Eman Westmoreland had scored from a yard out with 1:52 remaining to give Central Gwinnett the three-point lead, Clarke Central started one last time at its own 28.
The Gladiators drove inside Black Knights' territory with less than a minute to go. But a holding call, an incomplete pass and a sack on the final play sealed the deal for Central Gwinnett.
"We finally made a defense stand when the game was on the line," said Central Gwinnett head coach Todd Wofford. "We hadn't played particularly well on defense most of the night, but we had some critical turnovers on offense that also put their backs against the wall. I also think our team as a group was feeling a little too good after the Collins Hill win, but we stepped up when it mattered and got the win. I would always rather learn from a win than learn from a loss."
Central Gwinnett had taken a 38-35 lead on Samir Ramic's 23-yard FG to open the fourth quarter, but Clarke Central came right back and took the lead at 42-28 on Cameron Johnson's 1-yard run with 8:54 to go.
But that only set the stage for Westmoreland to lead the Central Gwinnett offense to the game-winning score and the Black Knights' defense to make the big plays in the final minute.
Central Gwinnett scored first less than three minutes into the game as Westmoreland hit Justin Brownlee across the middle on a 74-yard scoring strike to make it 7-0.
Clarke Central came right back and scored when Cameron Johnson hit Denzel Maxey on a 3-yard scoring pass with 5:49 left in the first quarter.
But Central Gwinnett once again went to the Westmoreland-to-Brownlee combination as the duo hooked up 45 seconds later on a 53-yard pass to give the Black Knights a 14-7 lead.
Clarke Central's defense went to work in the second quarter, mainly Dreko Statham with a pair of interceptions to set up the Gladiators' offense.
Following Statham's first interception, Cameron Johnson hit Austin Johnson on a 38-yard pass to tie the game at 14-14 with 11:34 to go in the second quarter.
Statham's second pick was cashed in when Cameron Johnson raced in from 15 yards out to give Clarke Central a 21-14 advantage with 10:36 to go in the first half.
Central Gwinnett finally settled down and got a third TD pass from Westmoreland to Brownlee, this time on a 50-yard strike with only 1:49 left in the half to tie the game at 21-21.
Central Gwinnett appeared to be going in for a go-ahead score early in the third quarter, but Westmoreland threw his third interception of the night at the Clarke Central 9.
Rodney Willingham took the next snap from scrimmage and raced 91 yards to paydirt and Clarke Central suddenly had a 28-21 lead with 9:05 remaining in the third quarter.
Central came right back and marched 63 yards in six plays, capped off by Westmoreland's 1-yard plunge to tie it again at 28-28.
Following a fourth-down stop by the Central Gwinnett defense at the Black Knights' 41, Westmoreland led the offense down the field again and took the lead at 35-28 when Johnathan Hawkins scored from a yard out.
Clarke Central tied it at 35-35 when Austin Johnson caught his second TD pass from Cameron Johnson from 23 yards out to close out the scoring in the third quarter.
Westmoreland finished 17 of 32 for 350 yards passing, 45 rushing yards, three passing TDs and two rushing TDs.
His favorite target was Brownlee, who finished with 10 catches for 250 yards and three TDs.
Zedekiah Brown caught five passes for 40 yards.
Hawkins paced the Central Gwinnett rushing attack with 117 yards on 24 carries.
Clarke Central was led by Willingham's 244 rushing yards while Cameron Johnson was 13 of 26 for 170 yards through the air.