TIGER — For all the talk about the Rabun County offense, it may be the Wildcats’ defense that’s the deciding factor in just how far they can go in the 2019 playoffs.
Rabun County held Toombs County to 143 total yards, just 51 rushing, and picked off three passes in taking a 34-14 win over the Bulldogs Friday night at Frank Snyder Stadium in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The Wildcats (12-0) move on to play Thomasville, a 58-14 winner over Pepperell, in next week’s quarterfinals. They will be on the road for the first time in the 2019 playoffs.
“We’re still playing and that’s all we talk about. Just finding a way to keep advancing,” Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw said.
Rabun County scored the final 27 points, sparked by their defense which forced three punts, snagged the three interceptions, and stopped the Bulldogs on downs over their final seven drives.
“Our defense over the past three or four games has just been playing great ball,” Shaw said. “We have a little more speed this year and they just play with so much heart. I can’t be more proud of a group of guys.”
Georgia-commit Braxton Hicks, known more for his offensive skills, picked off two Trey Cloud passes, his first of which set up the Wildcats’ eventual go-ahead score late in the first half.
“We made some adjustments after the first (Toombs County) drive and I thought we played well as a group,” Hicks said.
Both teams opened the game fast, and as expected.
Rabun got the opening kick and sophomore quarterback Gunner Stockton found a streaking Hicks down the middle for a 53-yard pass on the first play of the game. Four plays later Stockton connected with Hogan Woodard on a 13-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in.
The Bulldogs answered back with an 85-yard drive. Derrick Mincey capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7. Mincey’s run came one play after Toombs County QB Trey Cloud found Chandler Lynn on a 40-yard bomb.
Those two plays would be more offense than the Bulldogs (8-3) would muster over their next five drives.
The Bulldogs defense then forced Stockton and the Wildcats to punt and Mincey gave Toombs a 14-7 lead with an electrifying 55-yard punt return with just 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
It was all Rabun in the second quarter and the rest of the way. The Wildcats ran 24 plays to just 6 for the Bulldogs outgaining them 165 to 9 in the period.
Stockon tied the game at 14 on a 4-yard touchdown run and gave Rabun back the lead at 21-14 for good with a 9-yard TD pass to Sam Adams with 2:45 left in the half. The Wildcats defense stuffed the Bulldogs again to get the ball back with just 1:02 left.
Facing a 3rd-and-15 at the Bulldogs 43 with just 11 seconds left, Stockton hit Tate Ramey for a 26-yard screen pass to the Toombs 17 with 2 seconds left. Edwin Diaz, after a weird sequence of clock malfunctions and three Toombs County timeouts, knuckled home a 29-yard field goal as time expired for a 24-14 halftime lead.
“That as a big swing in the second quarter after the punt return,” Shaw said. “I was real proud of the guys in how they responded.”
Rabun forced a quick three-and-out on Toombs’ opening possession of the second half and Cory Keller went to work on the ground for the Wildcats. Keller ran the ball four times for 18 yards, including a 5-yard TD run to push the lead to 31-14.
The teams traded three punts sandwiched around an AJ Wheeler interception into the fourth quarter. Diaz completed the scoring with a 25-yard field goal early in the final period for the final points of the game.
Stockton finished with 250 yards passing and 129 yards rushing but 239 of that in the first half. Hicks had 8 catches for 128 yards and Keller pounded out 89 tough yards on 24 carries.
Mincey finished with 63 yards on the ground for Toombs County. But he came in averaging nearly 100 yards a game and had 34 of that on the Bulldogs’ opening drive of the game.
R -- Woodard 13 pass from Stockton (Diaz kick) 7-0, 10:12
T -- Mincey 27 run (Marin-Vital kick) 7-7, 4:16
T -- Mincey 55 punt return (Marin-Vital kick) 14-7, 0:39
R -- Stockton 4 run (Diaz kick) 14-14, 7:48
R -- Adams 9 pass from Stockton (Diaz kick) 21-14, 2:45
R -- Diaz 29 FG 24-14, 0:00
R -- Keller 5 run (Diaz kick) 31-14, 5:52
R -- Diaz 25 FG 24-14, 10:44