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Sunday October 24th, 2021 7:50AM

Defense propels Wildcats to OT win over Bleckley County

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

TIGER — Gunnar Stockton’s 1-yard plunge in overtime gave Rabun County a thrilling 27-24 win over Bleckley County Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A playoffs.

But if not for perhaps the defense’s finest hour of the season, the Wildcats would not be heading to Callaway next week for just the program’s second-ever semifinal appearance.

The Royals first play in overtime, a 23-yard screen pass, gave them what looked to be a sure touchdown setting up a 1st-and goal at the Rabun 2. But a huge first down stop by senior Hoff Windham, a gang tackle on second, and then a gutsy blitz call on third down forced Bleckley County to settle for a 24-yard James Fordman field goal.

“(The defense) just bowed its back up and said they were not going to score a touchdown,” Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw said afterwards. “Just an unreal effort by the entire group. And a great call by coach (Rob) Stockton [defensive coordinator] on third down.” 

On the Wildcats only overtime possession, Gunnar Stockton nearly scored on the opening play stepping out of bounds at the 2 just before reaching the ball over the pylon. After the Royals stuffed Stockton on the next play, he rumbled in on third down for the game-winner.

“My philosophy in overtime has always been to put the ball in the hands of your best player,” Shaw said. “We never even considered a pass in that sequence.”

It was the last of three rushing touchdowns for Stockton, who piled up 188 yards rushing for the game. He also finished 16-of-32 passing for 177 yards and one touchdown, but threw a pair of interceptions. He came into the game with just 1 INT in the Wildcats’ first 12 games.

Stockton’s one TD pass was a 24-yard strike to Hogan Woodard in the first quarter to tie the game at 7. Adriel Clark, who came into the game with a state record-tying 27 TD catches on the season, hauled in 8 receptions for 85 yards but was held out of the end zone for the first time in 2020.

Bleckley County, which already had garnered a pair of road wins in the 2020 playoffs, started strong. The Royals forced a quick Rabun 3-and-out and then Jahvon Butler capped a 9-play drive with a 7-yard scoring run for a 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats answered back with Woodard’s TD catch and they took the lead, 14-7, early in the second quarter on a 33-yard scamper by Stockton. 

It stayed that way until the Royals tied the game on a 10-yard blocked punt return by J'shun Height early in the third quarter. But Stockton would reclaim the lead for the Wildcats with a 10-yard scoring run late in the third quarter.

The teams’ traded a pair of punts, including Stockton pinning the Royals at their own 4 after a perfectly executed quick kick. But on the next play, Bleckley’s Chuckie Stephens broke out of a wild scrum and raced 96 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 5:06 left.

Neither team could break the tie until overtime.

Now Rabun County (12-1) will make the long trek near LaGrange looking for its second state finals berth in four seasons.

“I am so happy for our players, coaching staff, and community,” Shaw said. “We found a way to advance and never stopped fighting. We represented Rabun County with toughness, pride, and relentless effort. Callaway will be tough. They’ve been to the semifinals many times.

“But we’re just glad to still be playing and we’ll get ready to go on the road and hopefully get a win.”

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Rabun County football
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