Football has finally returned to Dawson County as the Tigers hosted the Habersham Raiders Aug. 23 in the season opener for both teams and senior Shawn Thomas started the game in thrilling fashion, returning the opening kick-off 95-yards as the Tigers went on to earn their first win by a final score of 27 – 13.
Dawson County extended the lead after the defense recovered an opening drive fumble from the Raiders and senior Caleb Bonesteel blasted a record setting 52-yard field goal straight through the uprights to put the Tigers up 10 – 0 in the opening minutes of the first quarter.
Habersham County turned the tables with back-to-back big plays, scoring from 74-yards and then again from 53-yards, but a missed extra point left the score at 13 – 10 and marked the end of the scoring for the Raiders as the Dawson defense buckled down to hold them scoreless for the remainder of the game.
The Tigers defenders grew stronger and more confident on each drive and by the end of the night they appeared to be everywhere as the team raked in two interceptions, two fumbles and sacked the opposing quarterback twice.
“Defensively, even when we made mistakes, we kept swinging,” Defensive Coordinator Bradley Fowler said. “We just need to make sure the second and third level guys fit into place.”
Sophomore Zach Holtzclaw got the start at quarterback for the Tigers and, after the team ironed out some first quarter jitters, led an offense that showed off both his arm and a strong supporting cast of running backs and wide receivers.
Led by Thomas’ 133-yards, including a 67-yard burst through the middle of the Raiders defense on his first carry of the second half, five different Tigers carried the ball, with Thomas and Holtzclaw accounting for a pair of touchdowns that put Dawson County firmly in control of the game.
“The offensive line made a big hole,” Thomas said. “I just hit it up. It was wide open.”
Holtzclaw spread the ball to four different receivers with senior Hunter Barron emerging as his favorite target in the second half. Barron hauled in five passes for 97-yards, including several critical third down conversions that allowed the Tigers to build on their lead.
The final scoring drive of the game came late in the third quarter and showed Holtzclaw firmly in control of an offense firing on all cylinders, overcoming multiple penalties along with being sacked for a substantial loss, to lead the Tigers down the field for the final touchdown of the night, a 5-yard scamper by Holtzclaw.
Head Coach Sid Maxwell gathered with the team after the game and praised them for the strength and character they showed in fighting back from the early deficit to get the win, but he also acknowledged that there was still a lot to work on as the season progresses.
“Team guts beats individual effort every time,” Maxwell said. “We just need to focus on what it takes to get better at each position. If we get all 11 guys doing that all the time, we’ll be fine.”
The Tigers are on the road for the first time in 2019 as they travel to Gainesville Aug. 30 to take on the Chestatee War Eagles with kick-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.