RABBITTOWN -- After a preseason filled with questions, Dawson County football provided some pretty exciting answers for Tigers fans on Friday.
New starters at quarterback, receiver and running back answered the bell for the Tigers time and again in their season-opener, fending off a determined East Hall 29-27 in Rabbittown.
"When everybody graduated last year, that was the question: Coach what are you going to do now? We're going to line up and play football," Dawson County coach Jeff Lee said. "And these seniors have been all-in and really led us."
Even so, there was a junior making key plays for Dawson County on Friday, and quarterback Zack Buchan impressed as the game wore on, overcoming two first half interceptions to finish with 251 yards passing and all four Tiger touchdowns on 15 completions. The Tigers may also have found a new standout receiver, as junior Dalton Edwards hauled in three catches and two touchdowns.
"Our confidence is building," Lee said. "Zack still has a little way to go in his reads and progressions, but he's got a chance to be pretty special. And the plays we called were designed to do what they did."
Fullback Cody Lamar may have taken things a step further, however, snagging a screen pass and rambling 70 yards for what proved the winning score, capping a solid night for the new senior starter.
"There was a couple special moments that contributed to us winning tonight," Lee said.
Dawson County needed every single of them in the face of a Viking team that refused to yield, answering every score with one -- or two -- of their own.
"(Vikings coach) Bryan Gray has done an excellent job with this football team at East Hall," Lee said. "That's a totally different belief what he has right now in that team, and they made some big plays tonight. My hat's off to them."
East Hall signal caller Devin Watson in particular proved dangerous, burning the Tigers defense while completing 25 of 34 attempts for 240 yards and three touchdowns. The junior also rushed for 56 yards and a score. Watson connected with 10 different Vikings receivers, including seven receptions for Junior Lee, who also snagged two scoring passes. Milton Whelchel also caught four balls for 50 yards and a score.
"It's a long season, and I feel like we did everything we could tonight," East Hall coach Bryan Gray said.
Watson sparked East Hall to back-to-back scores in the second quarter, answering Dawson County's opening touchdown with an interception on defense and a rushing and passing touchdown on offense. The sequence gave the Vikings a 12-7 lead that had the Tigers on the ropes just before halftime -- especially when East Hall picked up a Tigers fumble and moved to the Dawson County 9.
Yet the Tigers defense held, forcing a turnover on downs that allowed Dawson to regroup at the interval.
"We were making fundamental mistakes, and those are things that get you beat," Lee said. "But we came in and our seniors took charge in the locker room, and we haven't had that a lot. We resolved the mistakes and we went back to tackling better, and we found a way."
The route to victory started in the third quarter when Dawson County opened with a kickoff return into East Hall territory and then pounced on a Vikings miscue. Following a defensive holding call on East Hall on fourth down, Buchan found Jackson Putnam for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 8:07 left in the quarter. Buchan then tacked on a two-point run for a 15-12 advantage.
The score swung the momentum, and the Tigers only added to that in the fourth quarter when Buchan found Edwards wide open down the middle for a 43-yard touchdown pass. The strike yielded a 22-12 lead with 11:40 to play.
It was just the start of an explosive final quarter.
East Hall certainly wasn't finished. Watson again came up with the key plays, converting a fourth-and-eight pass before finding Lee in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. A successful point after kick hauled the Vikings within 22-19 and energized the home crowd.
The Tigers answered the call, with Buchan lobbing a short screen pass that Lamar turned into a 70-yard touchdown and a 29-19 lead -- which lasted less than two minutes, as East Hall responded with another touchdown pass from Watson to Lee. A two-point run from Jiel Vargas made it 29-27 with 3:10 left to play.
Dawson County would not let East Hall see the ball again, however, running out the clock to claim the victory.
"That was a big region game, that's huge," Lee said. "We're in first right now -- of course there's a lot of other really good football teams out there, but this could help us get a playoff spot down the road."
East Hall will look to bounce back at home against Chattooga next week, while Dawson County will play host to rival Lumpkin County in Dawsonville.
Dawson Co....0....7....8....14 -- 29
East Hall........0...12....0....15 -- 27
DC -- Edwards 29 pass from Buchan (Muldoon kick) 8:51, 7-0
EH -- Watson 21 run (kick failed) 6:39, 7-6
EH -- Whelchel 6 pass from Watson (pass failed) 5:30, 7-12
DC -- Putnam 10 pass from Buchan (Buchan run) 8:07, 15-12
DC -- Edwards 43 pass from Buchan (Muldoon kick) 11:40, 22-12
EH -- Lee 8 pass from Watson (Cazares kick) 6:40, 22-19
DC -- Lamar 70 pass from Buchan (Muldoon kick) 5:04, 29-19
EH -- Lee 11 pass from Watson (Vargas run) 3:10, 29-27