Going into the season, Tigers Head Coach Sid Maxwell set a theme for his new football team: Playing for those that came before you, setting the standard for those to follow.
On Friday night, those words rang out as the 41-0 victory over rival Lumpkin County cemented the Tigers as 7-AAA region champions, a first in Dawson County High School history.
"I've had some great teams that I've coached through the years, and this is probably one of my proudest moments," said Maxwell, in his first season with the Tigers.
"They've made a mark. They've set a standard for other teams now. This is something 10 years from now, 20 years from now, that they can't take from them."
Friday's win guarantees a first round state home game against the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAA, right where sophomore quarterback Coey Watson wanted to be going into the playoffs.
"If we play like we've done the last two Fridays, I think we'll play better than anyone in the state," he said.
The week before defeating Lumpkin, the Tigers also shutout Banks County 45-0.
Looking back on Friday night, Watson said he knew he couldn't let Lumpkin get inside his head.
"I was telling myself ‘Lumpkin doesn't have a good record, but they are rivals so they're going to play us hard,'" he said. "We had to keep our focus on not just the region championship. We had to focus more on Lumpkin than the region championship, because without beating them, we wouldn't make it."
Senior linebacker Conor Woodbury said the strength of the team as a whole is part of the success.
"We were big as a family my freshman year, but when Coach Maxwell came in, he really planted a seed of family," he said. "We've really grown as a family and I think it shows on Friday night. I know I can look to a brother on the left and a brother on the right, and he's going to have my back no matter what."
Senior running back Hunter Mitchell, who scored four touchdowns Friday to lead the Tigers to the team's first region championship in school history, said that was not always the case.
"Last year was pretty disappointing. It wasn't necessarily anybody's fault. It was our own attitude," he said. "It was like we were hoping we'd win, hoping things would go our way, but they never did ... and everybody thought this year would be exactly the same."
The energy, excitement and mindset Maxwell brought to the struggling program made all the difference, according to Mitchell.
"Coach Maxwell came and brought a lot of energy. He brought a winning mindset. When we played Forsyth Central, it really got us down. We worked hard that week and came back and beat Gilmer. That's when we realized if we practice hard, we can beat anybody we want to," Mitchell said.
Woodbury said the team was encouraged to ignore the negativity and focus on themselves and their goals.
"We're firing on all cylinders when at the beginning of the season, everybody was counting us out," he said. "They were saying we were the bottom of the region ... the bottom feeder coming off a 2-8 season. But we knew to ignore all those reports, because we knew what we could do, and with Coach Maxwell's training and everything we did this summer, we knew we had something special brewing."
Dawson County is now 6-3 overall and 5-1 in region play.
Senior receiver Tucker Maxwell, who played last year for Lambert where his dad coached before coming to Dawson in April, said he couldn't be more proud of his new team.
"This is the best team I've ever played for. It's a great feeling to get the win, especially to do something that hasn't been done in 50 years, our senior year," he said. "It's really something special to go out like that, especially being my first year. Everyone was so welcoming, and I know with my dad's training and how we worked that we'd be something special."
The team said they have been overwhelmed by support from friends, family and the entire community.
"All your family is texting you. All your family is at the games. The student section is loud up in the stands. You're getting your names mentioned at school. It's just awesome," Watson said.
For Coach Maxwell, the spirit he saw the last few weeks as the community embraced his team is part of what drew him to Dawson County.
"One of the reasons I came up from Lambert to Dawson County was to have one school in the community. I always thought that would be special," he said. "And then when I got up here with the atmosphere on Friday night, it's just exciting to have the community here, people excited that you have a chance for success, and I think they're starting to believe in it, too."