The Dawson County Tigers have played six road games since Christmas and began a grueling regional schedule with a game against Cherokee Bluff High School on Jan. 4 in Flowery Branch.
In their first year in region 7AAA, the Cherokee Bluff Bears looked to make their mark early against the Tigers as they opened the game with a fast-paced offense determined to put points on the board.
Dawson County, accustomed to playing fast-break ball, quickly adapted and the two teams raced up and down the floor, trading points for the first two periods to wind up in a tight 45-39 game at the half with the Tigers holding the narrow lead.
Led by senior Luke Chism (with 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists), and junior Jasper Gibson (with 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists) the Tigers continued to play fast in the second half and it became rapidly apparent that the full-court play was beginning to take a toll on the stamina of the Bears.
A series of steals and turnovers towards the end of the third period allowed Dawson County to extend their lead to 11 heading into the final eight minutes, and a beautiful pass and smash between Gibson and Chism put the finishing touches on a Cherokee Bluff team that had run out of steam.
The 81-57 victory moved the Tigers to 4-1 in the region and kept them locked in a second place tie with the East Hall Vikings.
The long road trip started with an appearance in the 27th annual Deep South Classic that took place Dec. 27-29 in Snellville.
A dramatic, last-second victory moved the Tigers past the Atlantic High School Sharks in the opening round of the tournament and Dawson County faced off against the defending champion, the Archer High School Tigers, in the second round on Dec. 28.
Dawson County opened an early first-period lead behind the scoring of Gibson, who led the team with 25 points. The Archer Tigers fought back over the third and fourth periods to keep the game close, but solid rebound work from Chism, who pulled 10 off the glass to go along with his 14 points, preserved the lead and Dawson County went on to win the game 67-56 to advance to the final round.
The Metrolina Christian Academy (MCA) Warriors fought their way into the championship game with tough wins over South Gwinnett and Brookwood and they proved equally determined against Dawson County in their game on Dec. 29.
After falling behind by 4 points at the end of the first period, the Tigers fought back to take a 1-point lead into the locker room at halftime. Dawson County continued to outplay the Warriors during the third period and took a 52-48 lead into the final stanza.
MCA came out strong in the fourth quarter and over the final eight minutes of play managed to shut down the Tigers offense just enough and the Warriors pulled off the last-second win by a final score of 69-67.
The non-regional loss moved the Tigers to 12-3 (3-1) on the season as the team remained on the road with their first game of the new year against the Pickens County Dragons on Jan. 3.
In their second meeting of the season, the Tigers were looking to bounce back from their loss at the Deep South Classic while the Dragons were looking for some revenge after the results of the first game (an 80-47 loss).
The Tigers had difficulty establishing their inside game early in the first period as the Dragons used aggressive play and fouls to jealously guard the lane. The strategy produced mixed results as junior Campbell Reed found some open space on the perimeter to sink two 3-point shots and Ahmad Kamara, senior, was able to take advantage of the extra space underneath the net to put 4 points of his own on the board.
Kamara also found success at the free-throw line as he and Gibson combined to hit 71 percent of their opportunities.
Seth Bishop continued his success from game one as he drove through and around Tiger defenders with 9 of his 26 points on the night to keep the Dragons within 3 as the first period closed on a score of 21-18 in favor of Dawson County.
Pickens County continued to play aggressively through the second period and managed to shut down the Tigers offense, holding Dawson County to a single-digit period of only 9 points, while spreading the ball around and taking advantage of a lot of open space to put up 16 before halftime. The Dragons took a 34-30 lead into the break.
Led by Chism, who pounded the middle boards for 10 points in the third, the Tiger offense finally broke through the Dragons defenders to find success underneath the net as junior Eli Burruss added two buckets and Kamara put another towards his total.
Slowly but surely, the Dragons defense moved to the inside and this set the stage for Gibson to take over the game from the 3-point line as he finished off the third period with two long, arcing shots to give the Tigers a 58-53 lead heading into the final period.
Gibson proved unstoppable in the fourth period as he continued to drop 3-point shot after 3-point shot, running his streak to 6 in a row before the Dragons reverted to sending him to the free-throw line where he continued to be red-hot, sinking four of five to secure the season sweep of Pickens County with by a final score of 84-69.
Dawson County wrapped up the road trip with a regional contest against the East Hall Vikings Jan. 8 at East Hall High School. Results were unavailable as of press time.