The 10 and one Dawson County Tigers (No. 3 Region 3AAA) traveled to Monroe to take on the undefeated Monroe Area Hurricanes (No. 1 Region 8AAA) in round two of the GHSA State Playoffs on Friday.
Behind an extraordinary game from the leading rushing quarterback in the state, senior, Chandler Byron, the Hurricanes overwhelmed Dawson County on both sides of the ball and put an end to the Tigers’ season with a devastating 49 – 17 victory.
Dawson County came into the game well prepared to face Byron, and it showed on the opening series of play as the front four of the Tigers led by seniors Zac Baloga and Jason Browning managed to push into the backfield and disrupt the Hurricanes early pass attempts.
A series of penalties against the Tigers and a collection of missed tackles kept the drive alive for the Hurricanes and they finished off their opening drive with a 2-yard Byron score to take the early 7- 0 lead.
The remainder of the first quarter was marked by excellent defense from both teams, as neither offense was able to put together any momentum over their next two possessions, but then, on their final drive of the first quarter Monroe Area running back Jakia Thompson managed to push the ball into the end-zone to extend the Monroe Area lead to 14 – 0.
The Tigers opened the second quarter with their best drive of the night and looked like they had finally settled into a good offensive rhythm as they drove the length of the field behind a three-pronged rushing attack that featured seniors Vaughn Clark and Ahmad Kamara along with sophomore Dakohta Sonnichsen.
Capping off the four-minute drive with a 6-yard burst through the middle, Kamara put the Tigers on the board with the first of his two touchdowns on the night and cut the Hurricanes lead in half as the score moved to 14 – 7.
Monroe Area was quick to return the favor and mounted their own long, clock-chewing drive that ended with Byron’s second rushing touchdown to push the Hurricanes to a 21 – 7 lead late in the second.
After a three and out returned the ball to the Hurricanes with just over a minute left in the quarter they were able to demonstrate their quick strike ability and added another touchdown with only 14 seconds left on the clock as Byron connected with wide receiver Emmanuel Okwudili in the corner of the end-zone to send the Tigers to the locker room down 28 – 7 at the half.
“We’re not tackling well,” head coach Sid Maxwell said. “Byron’s got 2,300 yards and we’re making him look good.”
Opening the third quarter on offense Dawson County was again unable to establish any momentum as the Hurricanes were relentless in the pursuit of Clark when he dropped back in the pocket and forcing the Tigers to punt the ball away to open the second half.
Sensing the opportunity to put the game away, the Hurricanes quickly drove the ball down field and Thompson found the end-zone for his second time of the night to put the Hurricanes in front by a score of 35 – 7.
Noah Brock, senior, provided the Tigers with a much-needed spark as he returned the ensuing kick-off deep into Hurricane territory to set the offense up with their best field position of the night. After moving the ball into the red-zone the Tigers stalled just shy of the goal-line and opted to put three-points on the board as Caleb Bonesteel nailed the short field goal to move the score to 35 – 10.
With an excellent return of their own the Hurricanes started their next drive from just short of mid-field and made quick work of the short field as Byron and Okwdili hooked up a second time through the air, this one a 15-yard throw and catch along the home sidelines to quickly re-extend their lead to 42 – 10.
The fourth quarter featured long-runs from both teams as Byron broke free for a 65-yard touchdown run to open the period and Kamara answered for the Tigers with a 75-yard burst that he followed up with his second touchdown run of the night to close the game with a final score of 49 – 17 in favor of the Monroe Area Hurricanes.
The emotion of the loss and the end of the season washed over the team in a visible display as they gathered around each other near mid-field.
As Maxwell looked over his team, he smiled, and reminded them that, despite the loss, this was the end of a historic season.
“You were 10 – 2 this season, and 35 – 13 over the last four years. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that, nothing at all,” Maxwell said. “It had to end sometime and that just happened to be tonight, but the memories of this season will live forever.”