Taking a look at North Oconee brought a smirk from most fans Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
The Titans looked undersized and outmatched, but that was far from the case as the team fought and battled on every down.
North Oconee upped its record to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in Region 8-AA with a 16-7 win over Dawson County.
Dawson County dropped to 2-5 overall and 1-5 in region play. The Tigers’ chances of a post-season birth went down the drain with Friday’s homecoming loss.
The Tigers offense only managed 8 total yards and one first down against the Titans in the first half. Dawson County High School Head Football Coach Jeff Lee and his offensive troops just couldn’t get anything going against a quick and aggressive North Oconee team.
“Our youth just showed along the offensive line,” Lee said. “We had to rotate some guys back and forth from offensive line to defensive line to keep them fresh. I thought physically we started to wear them down as the game went along. North Oconee wasn’t as strong as us and I thought they were getting tired. The kickoff return at the end obviously really hurt our chances.”
North Oconee received the opening kick-off and on the first play from scrimmage fumbled to give Dawson great field position at the 15-yard line.
Cody Tobias pounced on the ball for Dawson. Four plays later, as was the theme all night, the Tigers lost 18 yards, putting the ball back at the 35-yard line.
Senior place kicker, David Scully, attempted a 49-yard field goal that came up short. It was Dawson’s only scoring opportunity of the first half.
Defensively, Van Samples and his defense rose to the occasion.
The Tigers played the option and didn’t allow North Oconee much breathing room on offense.
Samples and his defensive players, such as, Stephen King, Grant Brown, Trey Weatherford and Nick Marsh bowed their necks and stopped North Oconee. The defense only allowed the visiting team two first half field goals.
“The defense played really good. They haven’t given up a touchdown in seven quarters, since the first quarter of the Oglethorpe game. We put them in a bad position with two short fields and they only gave up nine points,” Lee said about his team’s defensive efforts.
The Titans first field goal was set up by a 12-play drive that began on its own 32-yard line. Dawson’s defense buckled down forcing a 32-yard field goal by Titan sophomore James Pinkerton with 8:56 to go before halftime.
The second field goal by Pinkerton was a 37-yard field goal that was good, and expanded the Titan lead to 6-0 with only 1:27 before the halftime buzzer.
Lee and his staff came out from halftime with a different mind set on offense. Going to a full backfield, to negate the speed of North Oconee, was a great idea, but on this homecoming night the Tigers seemed cursed.
Just like North Oconee began the game, Dawson fumbled the first handoff, and the Titans recovered.
The Tiger spirits seemed deflated as North Oconee was knocking at the door.
Once again the Tiger defense held.
Pinkerton lined up for his third field goal of the game from the 10-yard line. The 27-yard field goal was good and gave the Titans a 9-0 lead with 8:34 to go in the third quarter.
Each team had three possessions apiece in the third and fourth quarters, with no results.
Abandoning the full backfield, Lee and offensive coordinator Doug Miolen went back to their spread offense. It proved successful as Dawson finally got on the board with 4:52 left in the game.
Taking over at its own 22-yard line with 6:29 to play in the game, Dawson mounted a quick scoring chance.
Quarterback Chase Gilreath found receiver Justin Wende on two consecutive passes for a total of 12 yards. Gilreath then scrambled for 10 yards and a 15-yard face mask penalty was tacked on to the end of the run giving Dawson the ball at the Titan 40-yard line.
Gilreath dropped back to pass and found receiver Cody Tobias in the seem for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The sideline erupted shifting all the momentum back to the Tigers.
Scully added the extra point and Dawson had cut the lead to 9-7.
The momentum quickly dissipated. On the ensuing kickoff, Scully kicked the ball to speedy return man Brandon Whitlock who scooped the ball up at his own 5-yard line.
Whitlock broke up the middle untouched for a 95-yard touchdown. The extra point was true and North Oconee quickly erased any hope by the Tigers with a 16-7 lead.
“We had guys around him and broke down ready to tackle him, but he just ran by us,” said Lee. “He (Whitlock) just out ran all our angles. That kickoff really hurt our chances at the end.”
Gilreath and the offense had two more chances, but each ended with an interception.
Offensively, it was a really frustrating night for Lee and his offense.
The Tigers finished the night with only 94 total yards of offense. Sixty-two of those yards came on the drive in the fourth quarter.
The only bright spot offensively was the play of kicker Scully, who punted seven times for a 41-yard average. He consistently kept North Oconee pinned down in its own territory.
Wide outs TJ Byrd and Wende had a good game catching the ball. Wende finished the night with four receptions for 36 yards. Byrd hauled two passes for 16 yards for the game.
This week Dawson must regroup as they go on the road to Union County.
The Panthers are a surprising 5-2 overall and 4-2 in region play.
Union defeated Oglethorpe County 37-34 last Friday.
“They will be tough. I’ve been told that in their press that they are encouraging all their folks to have a (black-out) against us. So we would like our fans to wear white when they travel up there this Friday,” Lee said about his team’s upcoming game against Union.
“We are going to play hard to win our next three games,” said Lee.
E-mail Pam Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.