DAWSONVILLE -- North Hall sophomore Avery Cagle wasn't surprised at all when he heard his number called by coach Benjie Wood with four seconds left and the Trojans trailing Dawson County 38-37 Tuesday night on the road.
"Coaches always tell me to just keep shooting and that they have confidence in me," he said.
He didn't disappoint.
After taking the inbounds pass under the Dawson County goal, Cagle turned and smoothly banked in a five-footer as time expired to give the Trojans a thrilling 39-38 win in a state tournament-like atmosphere at the Dawson County gym.
What was surprising was the perfection the Trojans executed the final play in a defensive battle the Baltimore Ravens would have been proud of.
"That was about the only play that worked all night," Wood said. "I thought it was a great game defensively from both teams. That game was what is right about high school athletics. Both teams played their tails off and competed down to the last second. Guys on both teams were making plays on both ends at the end.
"This is one of the hardest places to win anywhere and to come out of here with a win is outstanding. I'm real proud of how we answered the challenge."
The win for the Trojans (22-2, 12-1 Region 7-AAA) was their eighth straigh and sets up a season finale showdown with powerhouse Buford on Friday in Buford for a share of first place heading into next week's region tournament.
"I don't really know if it means all that much," Wood said. "No matter what happens we will be the top two teams. The real champion comes out of the tournament. But we always go into a game looking to win and we'll be ready."
Cagle would score the final four points for the Trojans in the final 28 seconds to give them their first leads since early in the second quarter. North Hall trailed the entire second half as both defenses dominated.
North Hall shot just 5-of-22 in the second half and found the going rough inside against the Tigers' Tyler Dominy and Lucas Pain. Dominy blocked five shots and altered a half-dozen others.
Dawson County did not fare much better. After taking a 31-23 lead midway through the third quarter, the Tigers were held to just one field goal -- a 3-pointer by Will Anglin -- and four free throws over the final 11:14 of the game.
With the Tigers leading 36-35, three times the Trojans had a chance to take the lead over a 90 second span but could not crack the Dawson County defense. Three times the Tigers had a chance to extend the lead in that same span but also could not convert.
It wasn't until Cagle dropped in a layup off a pass from Ethan Smith with 28 seconds left that North Hall was able to grab the lead. But Dominy was fouled driving to the basket with 17.5 seconds left and converted two free throws to reclaim the lead for Dawson County.
After a series of timeouts in the final 10 seconds, the stage was set for the exciting finish.
"We called the play to Avery and decided to use Ethan as a decoy because we knew they would put two or three guys on him. It worked perfectly," Wood said.
Smith would pace North Hall with 15 points and seven rebounds. Griffen Olsen had nine points, Adam Kelly finished with seven points -- five in the fourth quarter, including 3-for-3 on free throws -- and six rebounds, and Cagle finished with six for the Trojans.
Dawson County (20-4, 9-4) was led by Dominy with 15 points, but he was held to just two after halftime. Anglin poured in nine on three 3-pointers and Jonathan Sanderson had eight points for the Tigers.
For the first three minutes of the game it looked like neither team would score. The two teams combined to miss their first nine shots with four combined turnovers.
But North Hall found its stroke first going on an 8-2 run in a 44 second span midway through the first quarter behind Smith and Olsen, who combined for all eight points. The Tigers, however, would respond.
Anglin and Dominy would sink three consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Tigers within 13-11 by the end of the period. Dominy would remain hot to open the second quarter with five straight points to give Dawson County its first lead at 16-13.
The teams would trade baskets with the Trojans getting a put back basket by Kelly to tie the game at 21. Dawson County would reclaim the lead with a four-point possession on a free throw by Dominy and a 3-pointer by Pain after an offensive rebound and assist by Anglin for a 25-21 lead.
North Hall would cap the first half on a basket by Smith with 1:02 left to trail 25-23 at halftime.