He left it to the players to figure out how they would bounce back and save their season, and something clicked.
Cameron Albright said the players talked about focusing on playing North Cobb football, and that’s what they appeared to do.
The Warriors went on to force five second-half turnovers — four converted into touchdowns — and quarterback Tyler Queen rallied North Cobb to a 42-35 win that advanced the program to the state semifinals for the first time since 1959.
“The first half was tough, but we had to work through it, and we got the victory,” said Albright, a junior wide receiver and defensive back. “We needed to get back to how we liked to play football on offense and defense. We weren’t in our zone like we have been in other games of the season, so we got back in our zone and won the game.”
Queen accounted for five of the six touchdowns for North Cobb (11-2) — four running, one passing — which will play at Lovejoy next week for a chance at playing for the state championship.
The Warriors seemed a little disorganized going into the break after Mill Creek (9-4) scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead going into the break. The Hawks controlled the clock, with Gwinnett County’s leading rusher, Jacorey Lewis, rushing for nearly 100 first-half yards.
But North Cobb came out of the locker room and made a statement by scoring on its opening drive. Queen, who had only completed five of 15 pass attempts in the first half, hooked up with Xavier Borishade for a 26-yard touchdown to cut Mill Creek’s lead by a touchdown.
Then, the play that sparked North Cobb’s defense occurred on the ensuing Mill Creek drive.
Lewis broke through the middle and appeared to have escaped the North Cobb secondary en route to the end zone. But the Warriors caught up to him, Latrell Gibbs stripped the ball and Emmanuel Slaughter recovered to give the Warriors the ball on their own 6-yard line.
The fumble only added to North Cobb’s momentum. Two plays later, Queen connected to Borishade for a 71-yard gain, and the Warriors tacked on an extra 15 yards when Mill Creek was flagged for a personal foul.
North Cobb tied the game three plays later when Queen snuck in from 1 yard out.
It only got better for North Cobb when Mill Creek had the ball next. Lewis lost another fumble, which Albright fell on. North Cobb took the lead when Albright took the handoff from Queen and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Borishade.
“The ball bounced our way (in the third quarter),” Shane Queen said. “I think someone was looking out for us. They had all the momentum and the ball just started bouncing our way.”
Mill Creek didn’t go away after losing its lead. The Hawks scored on the next drive to tie it at 28-all when Michael Cheeks beat Gibbs for a 39-yard touchdown catch.
Mill Creek then got a turnover of its own when Tyler Queen’s pass was intercepted to Chris Dickhute, who returned it roughly 40 yards to the North Cobb 20.
Then, on third-and-8 from the 18, the Warriors came through with another huge play defensively when Gibbs picked off a pass intended for Cheeks.
North Cobb burned close to 4 minutes of clock before Queen scored on another 1-yarder to reclaim the lead.
Defensive back James King intercepted Mill Creek quarterback Daniel David for the second time on Mill Creek’s second drive, and Queen scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the game from 3 yards out.
With the role had in all six touchdowns, Queen now has 41 on the season — 19 rushing, 22 passing.
Mill Creek answered back on its next drive to cut North Cobb’s lead back to a touchdown, but when the Hawks got the ball back with 40 seconds left, Albright came down with the game-clinching interception.