DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County did what no other Region 7-3A team has done to North Hall all season: slowed the Trojans' illusive run game down.
The Tigers (6-4, 5-1 Region 7-3A No. 2 seed) used an explosive passing attack and physical defensive play to storm past North Hall, 26-8, at Tiger Stadium on Friday. The victory locked up the No. 2 seed for the Tigers. They'll play at home in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs next week.
The Tigers held the Trojans (6-4, 4-2 Region 7-3A No. 3 seed), who were averaging 320 rushing yards a game, to just 97 yards on 35 carries. They also slowed Class 3A's No. 2 rusher, Kevin Rochester, to just 95 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown. The Trojans did have some success through the air, however. Bradford Puryear was 7-of-13 for 124 yards. Jeremiah Telander caught five balls for 99 yards.
"We played very physical," Dawson County coach Sid Maxwell said. "North Hall is a good football team, and they've run over everybody. Our defense is getting better every week. It was just a lights-out effort from them tonight."
Meanwhile, North Hall's struggles were not only finding the end zone but also penalties in key moments.
The Trojans committed three holding penalties on their fourth drive of the game, one that negated a 30-yard Ajay Jones touchdown run and one that called back a 26-yard pass to Telander down to the Dawson County 14. The drive ended on a 36-yard Luke Brown field goal try that sailed wide right.
It didn't get any better on North Hall's fifth drive of the game. The Trojans had a 47-yard pass from Puryear to Jones, down to the Tiger 34-yard line, called back for an illegal man downfield penalty. The drive ended with a fumble on the Tiger 23-yard line.
"Obviously, penalties and sloppy play in the first half," North Hall coach David Bishop said about the loss. "I don't know how many big plays we had called back tonight, but that just kind of slows you down and puts you way behind the sticks, and when you're behind the sticks, it's tough to call anything."
The Tigers made it tough for the Trojans to rally back, going up 17-0 by halftime and 24-0 in the third quarter.
Zach Holtzclaw, who was 10-of-13 for 240 yards, found Braedon Hubbard twice in the first half streaking downfield for a 73-yard touchdown pass with 5:04 to go in the first quarter and a 70-yard pass in the second quarter to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead.
Hubbard hauled in 178 yards on three catches and two touchdowns.
Dominic Leblanc cashed in the North Hall fumble and a personal foul penalty that extended the drive for the Tigers, on a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
"The icing on the cake was scoring that three points and taking it to them. They had a penalty that gave us life, so we decided, hey, let's go for it. When you go up three scores, you can start playing some defense and slow it down."
In the second half, the Tigers went into grind-it-out mode. North Hall, however, put together a good drive to open the second half, but it ended on a missed Brown 30-yard field goal.
The Tigers marched 80 yards on the ensuing drive, including a nine-yard pass to Bailey Dameron, 11-yard Conley Dyer run, two passes to Leblanc, and a Holtzclaw pick up the fumble and run four-yard gain for a first down. Dyer capped the drive when he weaved through the Trojan defense for a 25-yard run for pay dirt. The score pushed Tigers ahead, 24-0.
The Trojans found a rhythm on their next drive, going on a six-play, 54-yard drive. Puryear completed two passes -- a 14 yard and a 25-yard -- to Telander to the Tiger five-yard line. Rochester darted in from five yards out, two plays later, for the Trojans' first points of the game with 11:46 to go in the fourth quarter. Rochester also converted the two-point play to cut the score, 24-8.
Dawson County continued to run the clock on the next drive and punted after three plays. Dyer's punt rolled to the Trojan one-yard line, pinning North Hall.
Two plays into the drive, Dawson County's AJ Moore rushed off the right side and sacked Puryear in the end zone for a safety and a 26-8 advantage.
"The good thing about the wing-T, it's not a come from behind offense," Maxwell said. "We were able to get the guys in the right spot, and they executed. Our guys stayed focused the whole game. We just played a total game tonight."