The annual football game between the Dawson County Tigers and the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans has determined the winner of region 7-AAA for the past three seasons. This year looked to be no different as both teams entered the game on Oct. 11 undefeated in regional play showing off two of the top rosters in north Georgia.
“I’ve watched some of the film on GAC,” Athletic Director Jason Gibson said prior to the game. “They are solid on both the offensive and defensive lines. It looks like they just wear teams down over the game and then run away with it in the fourth quarter.”
Behind their solid offensive line, the Spartans rely on the number one running back in AAA high school football, Tyler Bride. Bride has picked up 755 rushing yards in the first half of the season, averaging 9.9 yards per carry, along with 11 rushing touchdowns.
On Friday night, it would be strength against strength as Bride was running into the teeth of a stout Tigers defense that featured four players ranked in the top-20 in tackles. Seniors D.J. Mitchell, Riley Herndon, Brody Howell and Daniel Brock have combined for 192 tackles over the first six games of the season. Additionally, Mitchell has accounted for three sacks, trailing only fellow senior Maximos Moon for the team lead in the category.
Defensive coordinator Bradley Fowler acknowledged the challenge posed by Bride, along with the entire GAC offense, but had faith that his group would be able to handle the task at hand.
“They’ve had a really good week. They’re energized and ready to go,” Fowler said. “We’re going to stick to the same concepts we’ve had all season and react to what they do on the field.”
The contest quickly turned into a defensive battle as all of the scoring came in the first 15 minutes. GAC, alternating between Bride and senior running back Montae Bailey, put together two run-heavy 75-yard drives for touchdowns that chewed up almost all of the first quarter.
In between the two drives, the Tigers demonstrated their quick strike capability with a three-play scoring drive that saw sophomore quarterback Zach Holtzclaw connect with senior wide receiver Dakohta Sonnichsen for a 75-yard strike down the GAC sideline that briefly tied the game.
The second quarter opened with the Spartans taking advantage of a short field, set up by the first of two interceptions, to add a third touchdown to the board but they were denied the extra point as Herndon broke through the line to block the kick.
At that point, with roughly eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Tigers, defense took over the game. Led by Mitchell and Moon with a sack apiece, the defensive line bottled up both running backs and ceaselessly harassed the Spartan quarterback. Herndon picked up his seventh interception in as many games, and GAC was forced to punt on every remaining possession of the game.
Unfortunately for the Tigers’ offense, the Spartans defense rose to the challenge as well effectively stuffing the run and penetrating the backfield on a pair of critical third downs to stymie any Dawson County momentum.
“All night long we were off just a little bit,” offensive coordinator Andy LeBlanc said. “We moved the ball and moved the ball and then something would happen.”
The loss dropped the Tigers into third place in region 7-AAA with a regional record of 2-1 and an overall record of 5-2. After next week’s bye, Dawson County will host the red-hot Fannin County Rebels for another critical regional match-up on Oct. 25.