All good things must come to an end.
This held true for the Dawson County Tigers on Nov. 22 as they fell to the Jenkins High School Warriors in the second round of the 2019 GHSA State Football Playoffs by a final score of 42-9.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Tigers exceeded all expectations with an overall regular season record of 8-3 and a regional record of 4-2 to slide into the playoffs as the third seeded team from region 3-AAA. It marked the fifth straight playoff appearance for Dawson County under head coach Sid Maxwell.
The Tigers put on a defensive masterpiece for the team’s first victory over a higher ranked regional opponent in school history. Dawson’s defense held the Westminster Wildcats to less than 200 yards of total offense on the way to a 27-3 victory and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
In Savannah, an uncharacteristic slow start and a trio of first half turnovers put the Tigers in a hole early and the team was not able to overcome the early mistakes to build any momentum until late in the second quarter.
“We made several mistakes early and they (Jenkins) took advantage of that,” Maxwell said. “They’re a good football team, been to the Final Four the last two years and they got everyone back.”
Dawson County sophomore Zach Holtzclaw led an efficient passing attack, spreading the ball across eight different receivers, completing 14 of 22 attempts for 185 yards with one touchdown and one interception along with 19 rushing yards on four carries.
Junior Isaiah Grindle, one of six players to carry the ball, found the most success against the solid Jenkins defensive front picking up 43 yards on 13 carries.
“Jenkins’ defense was impressive,” Offensive Coordinator Andy LeBlanc said. “They were able to control the line of scrimmage which made it hard to move the football consistently.”
The Tigers’ best drive of the game came on the team’s final possession of the second quarter when Holtzclaw found senior Riley Herndon on a 57-yard wide receiver screen to move the Tigers to the Jenkins’ 5-yard line.
Holtzclaw then connected with senior Brody Howell, who fought through a pair of defenders to push the ball just inside the pylon for the Tigers only touchdown of the night.
Jenkins blew the game wide open in the third quarter, forcing another Dawson County turnover on a bobbled kick return and scoring three touchdowns in less than three minutes.
Showing a never quit mentality, the Tigers continued to battle for as long as time remained on the clock. With slightly more than three minutes remaining in the game Howell snagged an interception, returning it into Jenkins’ territory, to set up a Caleb Bonesteel (JR) field goal for the final points of the game.
“This team played their hearts out for the whole game,” Maxwell said. “I am extremely proud to be their coach.”
With zeros on the clock, the young men and coaches gathered for one last moment together on the field. This was not the ending to the season pictured and the tears flowed freely. LeBlanc, emotional in his own right, reminded them of the great things they had accomplished and the memories the had built in 2019.
“It hurts right now,” LeBlanc said. “But when you look back on this season, you will look back with pride.”