Having played their last three games at home and sitting out one week on bye, it has been over a month since the Dawson County Tigers were on the road. That changed on Nov. 1 when the team traveled to Flowery Branch to take on the Cherokee Bluff Bears in a key regional match.
The change of venue proved no problem for the Tigers as they took the lead on the first offensive play of the game, a 62-yard strike from sophomore Zach Holtzclaw to junior Dakohta Sonnichsen, and never looked back on the way to a 52-9 final score.
For the second week in a row, Holtzclaw led a fast-paced attacking offense down the field effectively and efficiently. He found freshman Jaden Gibson for a 25-yard touchdown later in the first half and added a third when Sonnichsen snagged a 29-yard toss out of the air in heavy traffic early in the third quarter. Holtzclaw further supported the Tigers with a pair of rushing touchdowns, accounting for a total of 30 points on the night.
“As the season keeps going, I’m just more comfortable with the offense,” Holtzclaw said. “I understand the playbook a little bit more every week. Watching film definitely helps.”
Senior Shawn Thomas provided the thunder to Holtzclaw’s lightning as he reeled off rushes of 40, 50 and 60 or more yards, averaging over 20 yards per carry. Also serving as the Tigers’ kick returner, Thomas broke a pair of big returns to set his team up with excellent field position. All told, Thomas racked up over 200 all purpose yards in the contest.
“The offensive line kept opening up big holes,” Thomas said. “Running through them was the easy part.”
All-state kicker, junior Caleb Bonesteel, was perfect on the night connecting on seven extra points and a 46-yard field goal.
Defensively, senior D.J. Mitchell, who picked up his seventh sack of the season, led a rock-solid unit that completely stuffed the Bears running game in the first half to limit Cherokee Bluff to only a field-goal in the first half.
Juniors Tripp Caine and Maximos Moon consistently found themselves in the Bears’ backfield forcing quarterback Mason Thomas out of the pocket almost every time he dropped back to pass and disrupting the Cherokee Bluff running game no matter which one of three running backs handled the ball.
Taking advantage of the large lead, Dawson County fielded a stable of younger players in the fourth quarter to continued success. Running backs Conley Dyer (So) and Nic Baloga (Fr) slashed the Bears defensive front to lead the Tigers down the field for the final Dawson County touchdown of the night.
Cherokee Bluff finally found the end zone in the final minute of the game after a hard-fought five-minute drive, but a missed extra point stopped them from putting double digits on the board.
With the victory, the Tigers solidified their bid for the post-season and set up a battle with the North Hall Trojans for the second seed in the upcoming GHSA State Playoffs. A game that defensive coordinator Bradley Fowler turned his attention to almost instantly when the clock ticked to zeros in Flowery Branch.
“North Hall runs a Wing-T offense, and they are darn good at it. It’s something we haven’t seen defensively this season,” Fowler said. “We need to focus on beating North Hall and getting a home playoff game.”
The Tigers will be on the road for the final game of the regular season on Nov. 8 with kick-off set for 7:30 at North Hall High School.