The first round of the Georgia High School Association football playoff’s got underway on Friday as the Dawson County Tigers (No. 2, 3AAA) hosted the Haralson County Rebels (No. 3, 6AAA) at Tiger Stadium in Dawsonville.
Featuring two high-powered rushing attacks the teams combined for 66 points in a wild game that ended with the Tigers advancing to the second round with a 44 – 22 victory over the Rebels that was much closer than the final score indicated.
Led by the state’s top rusher Treylon Sheppard, who came into the game as the fastest back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in state history with a total of 2,874 yards on the season, the Rebels immediately began pounding the ball into the middle of the Tigers defensive line on their opening drive.
Knowing the threat, the Tigers defense, led by junior Daniel Brock and senior Logan Barnes (who combined for 24 tackles on the night), forced an opening three-and-out.
Using Sheppard as more of a decoy on their second drive the Rebels were able to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Tigers defense and broke a quarterback keeper up the middle for a long touchdown run that gave them the early lead halfway through the first quarter at 8 – 0 after they successfully converted the two-point play.
Quarterback Vaughn Clark, senior, responded by leading the Tigers downfield with a series of short passes and running plays that ended with a tough 3-yard push up the middle for his first rushing touchdown of the night.
Caleb Bonesteel added the extra point, one of his six in the game, to bring the Tigers within one.
Still keyed on Sheppard the Tigers defense forced another quick three and out and the offense responded with their first big play of the night as Clark broke around the outside on an option run for a 41-yard touchdown to give the Tigers the lead 14 – 8 at the end of the first quarter.
Getting stronger as the game went on, the Tigers defensive line began to push into the backfield of the Rebels and continued to contain Sheppard as Haralson County struggled to establish their running game. After a trio of first downs, their longest drive of the night ended on a failed fourth down attempt deep in Tigers territory.
The next play saw senior Noah Brock, playing from the tailback position instead of his usual spot at wide receiver, take the ball 70-yards behind excellent downfield blocking from Shawn Thomas and TJ Wilson to extend the Tigers lead to 21 – 8.
With half-time approaching, the Tigers appeared to be in complete control until the Rebels, once again using Sheppard as a decoy, managed to break their second long-run of the game and bring themselves within five points as the second quarter closed with the score Dawson County 21 to Haralson County’s 16.
“We’ve got to settle down and play our game” said Head Coach Sid Maxwell as he headed to the locker room at the half. “They are giving to a guy we haven’t seen run it before.”
The second half of the game opened with big plays from both teams as Tigers running back Ahmad Kamara, senior, broke free on a sweep to the left for 70-yards to add another touchdown for the Tigers, but he was answered immediately by Sheppard, who finally broke loose for his own long run on the Rebels first play of the half as well to bring the score to 28 – 22 with over ten minutes remaining in the third quarter.
From that point forward the game was all Dawson County, as the defensive unit came together and put the brakes on the Rebels backfield for the remainder of the half.
The Rebels did manage to put together a strong drive late in the third, but a fumble, forced and recovered by senior Robbie Rarick put an end to the threat.
The Tigers continued to gain yardage in chunks and scored on another huge play when Thomas ran through multiple tackles on a 37-yard gallop to the endzone towards the end of the third quarter to increase the Tigers lead to 12 as the score moved to 34 – 22 in favor of Dawson County.
The Tigers closed out the game by keeping possession of the ball for the majority of the fourth quarter, ending a long drive with a Bonesteel field-goal and then capping off the game with Ryan Glass, who picked up over half of his 115 receiving yards on the night, slipping past his defender on third and long to take the ball 62-yards to the house for the final score of the night to give the Tigers the 44 – 22 victory.
The win extended the Tigers record setting season with their 10th victory of the year and advanced them into a Sweet Sixteen match-up versus the undefeated Monroe Area Hurricanes (No. 1 seed in 8AAA).
The Tigers will face another tough rushing threat as the Hurricanes feature Chandler Byron, who is on the verge of setting the state record for most rushing yards from quarterback position and is the No. 2-rusher in the state at 2,133 yards.
Round two of the GHSA state playoffs will kick-off at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at Monroe Area High School in Monroe.