It was not immediately apparent that the Westminster Wildcats were favored over the Dawson County Tigers on Nov. 15 when the two teams met in the first round of the GHSA State playoffs in Alfred E. Thompson stadium in Atlanta.
The Tigers’ fans outnumbered the home crowd nearly two to one. The energy and emotion displayed by the Dawson players far outweighed that of their higher ranked opponents and the inspiring sounds of the DCHS band (the only band present) all combined to give the game the feeling of home.
Under these conditions, on a cold, wet field the Tigers put on a defensive masterpiece to defeat the Wildcats by a final score of 27-3 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round.
Led by junior Tripp Caine with two interceptions, the defense forced a total of four turnovers to completely shut-down a Westminster offense that featured a combination of spread style passing and wing-t zone running plays.
“I just listened to and followed what my coaches told me,” Caine said. “I just fed off the playoffs. Something about this game made me play harder.”
Senior Riley Herndon made his presence known on the Wildcats first drive of the game as he snagged his Region AAA leading seventh interception.
The Tigers put the first points on the board with a 32-yard field goal from junior Caleb Bonesteel after a promising drive stalled just outside of the red-zone.
Westminster chewed up the remainder of the first quarter with their longest drive of the night, 14 plays over five minutes, that ended with their only points of the contest, a 43-yard field goal.
Defensive end, Maximos Moon (SR) provided the Tigers with another scoring opportunity at the end of the second quarter when he recovered a Wildcat fumble and returned the ball to the two-yard line. Junior running back Isaiah Grindle punched it in with a little more than one-minute remaining to give the Tigers the lead heading into half-time.
“This was definitely a big game and I felt all the energy from our team,” Moon said. “We came out firing all of our bullets and we came out on top.”
A 38-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half extended the Tigers’ lead to 13-3. Bonesteel finished the night 2 for 2 on both field goals and extra points.
Dawson County put the game away in the fourth quarter as senior Shawn Thomas broke touchdown runs of 24-yards and 8-yards on back-to-back scoring drives to give the Tigers a commanding 27-3 lead in the final minutes.
Caine’s second interception of the night with three-minutes on the clock sealed the victory for Dawson County.
With the win the Tigers advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the GHSA State Playoffs and will travel to Savannah to take on the Region 3-AAA No. 1 Jenkins Warriors. The Warriors enter the game undefeated in regional play at 8-0 and an overall record of 10-1 scoring an average of 40-points per game while allowing only seven points to their opponents.
“Jenkin’s defense is very talented. They have speed everywhere and play very hard,” Offensive Coordinator Andy LeBlanc said. “They are unlike any defense we have seen this season. We are looking forward to the challenge and know our players will play very hard.”
The Tigers and Warriors are scheduled to play at Jenkins High School on Friday, Nov. 22 with kick-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.