DAWSONVILLE — Zach Holtzclaw and the Dawson County offense could have cared less about Hurricane Delta’s driving rain.
The junior quarterback passed for 352 yards and six touchdowns to lead Dawson County (2-3, 1-0 Region 7-3A) past White County, 42-35, in the much-anticipated Region 7-3A opener Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
Jaden Gibson (6-123, 1 TD), Dakohta Sonnichsen (7-99 2 TD) and Tyler Lane (3-65 2 TD) hauled in most of those yards, and Isaiah Grindle rushed for 128 yards to help the Tigers in the win against a physical White County (4-1, 0-1 Region 7-3A).
“We did this at Westminster in the rain and it didn’t bother him in the rain,” Dawson County coach Sid Maxwell said Holtzclaw. “I think he just stayed focused and delivered the ball and knew where to go. That helps a lot. The line did a good job of protecting. Isaiah Grindle did enough to open it up to spurt through to make them keep playing the run. So, again, it was one of those games that went back and forth and luckily, we just finished on top."
The win puts the Tigers in an early tie for the top spot in the region with Cherokee Bluff and North Hall as they head into their second off week.
“It’s still a long time in this region and with COVID and who’s playing next week, there are so many unknowns this year,” Maxwell said. “You just got to get your team prepared and whoever you play next attack that game, then attack the next one.”
Dawson County (510 total yards) grabbed a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and it seemed like the Tigers were going to blow it open, but the Warriors (484 total yards) rallied back to cut to 21-14 by halftime. The second half was a shootout.
The other storyline of the night was White County quarterback J. Ben Haynes, who left the game early in the third quarter with an injury and never returned. He finished the night 10-20-1, 234 yards and a touchdown.
Riley Stancil (8-36 yards rushing, 2 TD) entered at quarterback after the Haynes’ injury and took charge, scoring on his first play at quarterback on a 12-yard run around the right side to give the Warriors their first lead, 28-21.
It was the beginning of the second half shootout.
Dawson County scored on its next drive, a 29-yard pass to Lane to tie the game. The Tigers added another after White’s fake punt failed, giving the Tigers the ball at the Warrior 43-yard line, and two plays later, Holtzclaw found Sonnichsen 42 yards downfield for the score and the lead, 35-28.
Stancil answered with a 19-yard run early in the fourth quarter to tie the game, 35-35.
But late turnovers cost the Warriors late in the fourth quarter – a fumble with 5:58 to go on the Tiger 3-yard line and an interception in the Dawson County endzone that eventually sealed the game for the Tigers.
“It was sloppy conditions,” Maxwell said. “I think both defenses got tired and both teams were very explosive. They did a good job of coaching and attacking us. We had to make adjustments, Coach [Bradley] Fowler did a good job of making adjustments on the defensive side for us.”
Dawson’s Tripp Caine recovered Stancil’s fumble on the 3-yard line, setting the Tigers up for the go-ahead touchdown. On the fifth play of the drive, Holtzclaw hit a leaping Gibson down the Warriors’ sideline, he shook the defender and sprinted for paydirt – a 77-yard pass play – to give the Tigers a 42-35 lead after the Caleb Bonesteel extra point with 3:50 left.
The Warriors, however, had some trickery up their sleeves on the first play of the ensuing drive. Darius Canon took the double reverse play 37 yards down to the Tigers 29-yard line, but two plays later, Dawson County sophomore tackle Cade Adams tackled Stancil for an 8-yard loss, setting up a 4th-and-12 play. On the next play, Gibson intercepted Stancil in the endzone and returned it to the 43-yard line with 1:28 to go to seal the game.
“We played a very good football team tonight,” Maxwell said. “I give my team credit for not quitting and playing four quarters. I think our non-region schedule really helped us prepare for this game. I think we’ve learned when were in those tough situations.”
Stancil and Silas Mulligan were key in the Warriors' second-half rally. Mulligan churned out 124 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Canon was big in the receiving game in the first half, hauling in 5 catches for 120 yards and a score.