Dawson County struck big in crucial situations to open the season Friday against East Hall in Gainesville. Leading by a small margin with five minutes left to play, Tigers (1-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAA) quarterback Zack Buchan hit running back Cody Lamar in the open field on a third-and-long at the 30 and ran 70 yards for the score, propelling Dawson County to a 29-27 win.
Buchan, starting his first time for the Tigers, made plenty of plays all night. It seemed the Vikings (0-1, 0-1) found a way to answer to keep it a hotly-contested battle until the very end.
Buchan completed 13 passes for 246 yards, including a pair of long touchdown throws in the fourth quarter. The first of his touchdown throws in the final period was a 46-yard pass to Dalton Edwards, who led Dawson County with three catches for 85 yards.
"Our confidence is building," Tigers coach Jeff Lee said. "When everybody graduated last year, that was the question: ‘Coach, what are you going to do now?' We're going to line up and play football. And these seniors have been all-in.
"Those plays we called were designed to do just that. We didn't expect Cody to take that one 70 yards, but most of that was expected. Zack still has a little way to go in his reads and progressions, but he's got a chance to be pretty special."
East Hall's success down the stretch was on the arm of junior quarterback Devin Watson, who threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to junior wide receiver Junior Lee, and finished the night with 235 passing yards.
"He's [Watson] a player," Vikings coach Bryan Gray said. "And he's only going to get better."
Despite the loss, Watson was clutch all night for the Vikings. Trailing 22-12 midway through the fourth quarter, Watson kept the first touchdown drive alive with a 24-yard completion to Milton Whelchel, who also had a second-quarter touchdown catch.
In addition to his big night passing, Watson ran it in for a 21-yard score in the second quarter. Shortly after, he intercepted a Buchan pass from his spot in the secondary.
Whelchel's 6-yard touchdown catch after the ensuing drive started at the Dawson County 10 and put East Hall ahead 12-7, its only lead of the game.
Once Buchan got settled in the second half, he showed precision throwing the ball. In the third quarter, Dawson County went back ahead with a 12-yard catch for a touchdown by Jackson Putnam.
Two of Buchan's touchdown catches were made by Edwards, the biggest of which came in the first seconds of the fourth quarter to put the Tigers ahead 22-12. After sliding open past the defender, Buchan hit the outstretched fingers of Edwards, who hauled in the pass and went in for the 46-yard score.
After East Hall answered with the first of Watson's touchdown throw to Lee, Dawson County scored on the third play of its next drive with a 70-yard touchdown catch and run by Lamar on a third-and-15 play.
Though disappointed with the loss, Gray knows that over the course of a 10-game season, East Hall can easily get past this opening-night loss.
"I feel like we did everything we could tonight against a very good Dawson County squad," Gray said. "I've got nothing but pride in how we played."
Neither team had sustained success running the ball. Watson was the game's leading ball carrier with 18 rushes for 56 yards. Lamar carried 21 times for 58 yards for the Tigers.
On Friday, East Hall plays host to Chattooga at Vikings Stadium; Dawson County hosts Lumpkin County in Dawsonville.