MILTON – One of the oldest cliches in football is that turnovers will kill you, especially against a good team.
North Gwinnett experienced just that on Saturday night.
Facing Wekiva (Fla.) in the final game of the Freedom Bowl at Milton High School, North turned possession over five times and succumbed to the Mustangs 28-14.
Three of those turnovers came in the second quarter that allowed Wekiva to jump out to a 14-0 lead.
Although North (1-1) battled back and got within seven points on two different occasions, the hole proved to be too deep to climb out of.
“The margin of five turnovers to zero against the No. 1 team in the state of Florida is not going to work for you,” North head coach Bill Stewart said. “Their kids are first class and played tough and there was a lot of talent on the field. Our kids can learn from this and it shows how tough you’ve got to be to bow it up and play big-time football."
The turnover bug first bit North in the second quarter with two fumbles and one interception.
The first of those came in the opening minute of the second when linebacker and UGA commit Rian Davis sacked quarterback J.R. Martin, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Teddy Adkins at the North 47.
However, North’s defense killed that turnover by forcing a three and out, resulting in a punt that gave the Bulldogs the ball back at its own 20.
Three plays later, the ball went back into Mustang hands when lineman Tyler Davis plucked a pass out of the air on a middle screen and returned it to the Bulldog 30.
This time, Wekiva made North pay by going the remaining distance on four plays, ending it with a 1-yard scoring leap from Brandon Hill. The PAT was good and Wekiva led 7-0 with 7:37 left before half.
Just over four minutes later, Wekiva got its third turnover of the quarter when Adkins hit receiver Josh Downs hard from behind after a completion for a big gain, resulting in a scoop-and-score from 56 yards out by Malcolm Green.
Down 14-0 on the ensuing possession, North responded when Martin heaved a long pass under heavy pressure down the middle of the field into the cradling arms of Javonni Cunningham, who outraced his defender for the 59-yard TD pass.
That got North within 14-7 for the second half, but the Mustangs turned to their ground game in the second half to play a game of keep-away.
The opening drive of the third went 57 yards on 14 plays, 12 of them on the ground, and chewed up 5:52 off the clock as the Mustangs stretched out 21-7.
The TD was again scored by Hill, who had three scores on the night on 1-yard dives and finished the game with 56 yards on 16 carries. Hill also had an interception on defense.
The third quarter would end with the Mustangs running 21 plays to just five for North, keeping the ball for all but 2:17 in the period.
The defense answered the call in the fourth with a stop on fourth down at the North 29 on a sack by Chris Miles gave the Bulldogs the ball back at its own 37 with 9:39 left to play .
Two plays later, a double pass from Martin to Tyler Goodson led to a 59-yard TD toss to Devin Crosby, getting North within a score at 21-14 with 8:58 to go.
Wekiva shook off the big play and kept its ground attack going on the ensuing possession, putting the game away with Hill’s third TD of the night with 5:21 to go, ending a six-play, 73-yard drive.
On the night, Wekiva (2-0) rushed for 169 yards, led by 117 yards on 32 carries fro Supreme Richardson.
North’s secondary, led by Taylor Goodson, Jarvis Cunningham and Trisstan Weddington, held the Mustangs to 99 yards through the air by not letting Wekiva stretch the field.
For North, Martin finished with 102 yards through the air on 8 of 14 attempts with one score and one interception, while Will Goldring was 4-for-6 for 35 yards and one interception.
The Mustangs also contained North’s running game, holding Tylerr Goodson to just 18 yards on nine carries, while Crosby led the team with 31 yards on four rushes.
WEKIVA 28, NORTH GWINNETT 14
Wekiva 0 14 7 7 - 28
North 0 7 0 7 - 14
Wekiva: Brandon Hill 1 run (Bryan Wilson kick) 7:37
Wekiva: Malcolm Green 56 fumble return (Wilson kick) 2:28
North: Javonni Cunninham 59 pass from J.R. Martin (Cameron Clark kick) 1:23
Wekiva: Hill 1 run (Wilson kick) 5:56
North: Devin Crosby 59 pass fron Tyler Goodson (Clark kick) 8:58
Wekiva: Hill 1 run (Wilson kick) 5:21