A lot of things have changed since February 2019.
Tom Brady isn’t a Patriot anymore, people lived inside their homes for several months due to a global pandemic and ‘Tik Tok’ is no longer just the sound a clock makes.
But for the Dawson County Tigers basketball team, one thing has stayed the same: they’re still region champions.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the Dawson County Tigers won the region 7-3A tournament trophy for the third year in a row, beating the White County Warriors 59-50.
“All us coaches just feel really proud of our guys,” Tigers head coach Todd Cottrell said after the game. “They’re a special group that’s really embraced us.There’s a strong culture and tradition in Dawsonville and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
The Tigers entered the tournament as the number three seed after losing both regular season matches against White County and losing one of two matches against Cherokee Bluff. After getting revenge in the region semifinals against Cherokee Bluff last Saturday, the Tigers once again set out for revenge in the championship.
The Tigers shot the ball well on Tuesday night and did not miss a single free throw in the game. Joakeim Celestin took control of the game on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. His 34 points led the team, with 20 of those points coming in the second half.
“I’m just really proud of myself, proud of my teammates, proud of my coaches,” Celestin said after the game. “It’s hard to imagine this moment happening but the feeling is great.”
The Tigers ended all four quarters with the lead. Tyler Lane found Ty Whitmire wide open for a layup as time expired to give the Tigers a one-point lead to end the first quarter.
The Tigers kept momentum until the last six minutes of the game, when the Warriors went up 41-40. Cottrell called a timeout and said he reminded his team to come together and play team basketball.
“With six minutes to go, our guys just bonded together,” Cottrell said. “That’s the part of the game in the past that sometimes we’ve fragmented, but not tonight.”
After a Tigers turnover, Celestin ran down the court and stole the ball back. He glided down the court and made his layup and free throw to convert the three-point play after being fouled hard. He came back on the next Tigers possession and drained a pull up basket at the top of the key.
The Tigers never lost the lead again.
“After we threw the turnover, I told the guys ‘Hey we just need to calm down,’ Celestin said. “Give me the ball and I won’t miss because I wasn’t missing. All night I just wanted to attack, attack and attack.”
Jaden Gibson, Max Tierney and Jake Craft all made late free throws as time expired, all while the Dawson County Student Section sang “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” at the opposing fans. Gibson led the Tigers with five assists and Craft added 10 points to the Tigers offensive effort.
For the third year in a row, the Tigers will host at least their first two GHSA 3-A state playoff games at Ford Phillips Arena with the chance to host more as long as they continue to win. With the bad taste of the 73-69 loss to Cedar Grove in the first round last year still lingering, Cottrell said he knows that the season is nowhere close to being over.
“Survive and advance,” Cottrell said. “You’re gonna play somebody good. I think this group has been galvanized enough throughout the year that we’ll be ready to go out and compete.”
The Tigers first game of the GHSA 3-A State Tournament will be either Tuesday, Feb. 23 or Wednesday, Feb. 24. Their opponent has not yet been determined.