The Dawson County boys basketball team is riding high after doing the improbable last weekend.
Head coach Thad Burgess' team captured the Region 8-AA crown with a 51-43 win over Jefferson at Hart County High School on Saturday. It was the first region championship since 1969 for the Tigers.
The Tigers (23-6) had to win three games just to reach the championship game against the Dragons. Dawson won games over East Jackson, 58-45; Elbert County, 57-44; East Hall, 71-59 and Jefferson.
Monday's game with East Jackson was a sign that the Tigers were coming together at just the right time. Dawson used its patented 3-2 zone defense to shut down the Eagles (6-20) and come away with a first round win at East Hall High School.
"It wasn't pretty," Burgess said. "I thought East Jackson played one of their better games. But at this time of year, any win is a good win."
On offense, the Tigers slowed the pace further, driving into the lane and finding the free-throw line often.
"It's something we do three to four times a day at practice, because whether or not you win can come down to free throws," said Tigers junior Will Anglin, who led all scorers with 16 points.
The Tigers were 18-for-31 from the charity stripe.
"Our zone gives teams problems because it's something that no one else plays," Burgess said. "It cuts down on our fouls, and it allows us to take some of the clock time."
The Eagles prevented Dawson County from celebrating their 20th win too early, but the Tigers led from start to finish, opening with a 3-pointer from Tyler Dominy (13 points) and closing on a pair of free throws by Anglin with 1:07 remaining.
Gunnar Armstrong added 13 points for the Tigers and Bruce Clark scored 10 as four players accounted for all but 4 points of the Dawson County scoring.
East Jackson was led by Nathan Crumley with 11 points.
Tigers scorers: Anglin-16 points, Dominy-13 points, Gunnar Armstrong-13 points and Bruce Clark-10 points.
Wednesday night the Tigers were matched up against a very athletic Elbert County team.
Elbert (17-9) came into the tournament as the No. 2-seed from Region 8-AA South.
The Blue Devils came into the contest on a seven-game winning streak.
"I can't hardly describe in words what this means to our basketball program to beat an unbelievable team like Elbert County in the first game," Burgess said.
Dominy led the Tigers with a team-high 15 points to secure the Tigers a spot in the state tournament.
Jonathan Sanderson and Anglin each added 11 points for Dawson County, and Armstrong finished with 10.
"It's pretty great," Anglin said. "We've put in a lot of hard work and it's paid off."
Tiger post player Clark had a big night on defense. He pulled down 17 rebounds for his team.
Burgess's teams have qualified for the state tournament five out of the last six years.
Tigers scorers: Dominy-15 points, Sanderson-11 points, Anglin-11 points, Armstrong-10 points and Clark-10 points.
Armstrong led Dawson County with a team-high 19 points in a 71-59 win against East Hall (20-7) on Friday night in the Region 8-AA tournament semifinals at Hart County High. Clark added 14 points, Anglin scored 12 and Sanderson finished with 10 for Dawson County.
Hampton led the Vikings with a game-high 30 points.
"We finally got a signature win over East Hall. We have been trying so hard to get that type of win. East Hall has a tremendous amount of basketball tradition. I was told that East Hall has only lost one Region 8-AA game since 2000 and that was to Buford in 2006. The way they just dominated the region the last several years is amazing. We did so many great things in this game with handling the East Hall pressure. I am really proud of my players," Burgess said.
The Tigers led 31-27 at the end of the first half and kept the momentum going by outscoring East Hall 40-32 in the second half.
Tigers scorers: Armstrong-19 points, Sanderson-10 points, Anglin-12 points and Clark-14 points.
In the championship game Dawson trailed at halftime 25-18, but rallied in the second half to outscore Jefferson 33-18 to take the championship.
"It was hard to come back the next night and beat the No. 1 seed. It was tough after such an emotional win on Friday night," Burgess said.
"It was an unbelievable effort," Burgess said. "We just believed we were going to win."
Tyler Dominy led the Tigers with 19 points and added three key blocks late in the fourth quarter as Dawson held on for the win.
Austin Thompson led Jefferson with 22 points.
"This just has been an incredible week for us. It is a great thing for our community and our school. We now have the chance to host a state tournament game," Burgess said
The Tigers will play Calhoun from Region 7-AA, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Dawsonville. The Yellow Jackets are the No. 4-seed from their region and come into the game with an 11-17 record.
"Calhoun has a great tradition in sports. It will be a challenge for us. We are expecting a big crowd. It will be a great atmosphere in our gym. I think our guys are pulling together at the right time and I'm really proud of them," Burgess said.
DCN regional staff contributed to this story.