Quarterback Austin Kirksey, who sat out more than a quarter and a half after suffering an injury late in the second quarter, returned with 10:46 to play to help rally second-ranked Walton to a 27-24 victory over No. 5 North Gwinnett on Friday at Raider Valley.
The star of the show, however, was Dominick Blaylock, the nation’s No. 6-rated wide receiver prospect and one of the biggest reasons ESPNU was in Marietta to televise the game. Blaylock scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner on an 11-yard run 32 seconds to play. He also rushed for 51 yards on 13 carries, had 50 receiving yards on five catches and was 1-of-2 passing for 40 yards. And he converted fourth-down plays on the Raiders’ two fourth-quarter drives and capped them both with touchdown runs, including the game-winner from 11 yards out with 32 seconds to play.
“We’ve just got a phenomenal group of kids,” Walton coach Daniel Bruner said. “They just fight, fight, fight for each other. And then when we made mistakes, we had other kids step up. I’m just so proud. And [Blaylock] is the best player in the state of Georgia. Ain’t no doubt about it my mind When the game’s on the line, this guy is going to go get it done for us. It was just a beautiful win for us.”
It was Walton’s second victory in two seasons against the Bulldogs, whose 31-28 loss to the Raiders in last season’s Corky Kell Classic was the only blemish on their 2017 Class AAAAAAA championship season.
Kirksey re-entered the game after Blaylock had thrown a 40-yard pass to KD Alford on a fourth-and-5 play that gave Walton the ball at the North Gwinnett 17-yard line. After Kirksey’s 9-yard pass to Blaylock on third-and-8 moved the ball to the 6, Blaylock scored two plays later to tie the game 21-21 with 8:41 to play.
North Gwinnett (2-2) reclaimed the later three minutes later on a 29-yard field goal by Cameron Clark. His kicked completed a seven-play, 45-yard drive that began at the Walton 41-yard line after the Raiders committed a penalty attempting to recover an onside kick.
Walton (4-0) then drove 70 yards in 13 plays for the winning touchdown. The key plays were Blaylock’s 11-yard run on fourth-and-3 from the Walton 49 with about four minutes left, and Kirksey’s 33-yard pass to Alford on third-and-27 that moved the ball to the North Gwinnett 12 and set up the winning touchdown.
Kirksey was 12-of-18 passing for 144 yards (3-of-5 in the fourth quarter for 55) and scored the Raiders’ other touchdown on an 8-yard run late in the second quarter that gave Walton a 14-7 lead.
Alford had 115 yards receiving on seven catches, and D.J. Soyoye ran for 83 yards on 17 carries. Walton finished with a 383-282 advantage in total offense.
North Gwinnett was held to 55 yards rushing on 27 carries but got 175 yards passing from J.R. Martin, who was 17-for-24 and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Garrison Manor on fourth-and-8 to pull the Bulldogs even at 14-14 midway through the third quarter.
Goodson had two 1-yard touchdown runs, including one with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter that gave North Gwinnett a 21-14 lead. He also had one reception for 18 yards and completed a 52-yard pass that led to his first touchdown run. Josh Downs caught six passes for 95 yards.
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