The Heard County High School football coach saw his defense keep a potent Bowdon offense out of the end zone all evening until the very final play of the game, while also holding the Red Devils to just one first down until late in the third quarter of the Braves’ 28-13 triumph at Warren P. Sewell Field.
The Red Devils (8-2, 6-2 Region 5-AA) — who will now be the No. 3 seed in the Class AA state playoffs — scored on a defensive touchdown less than three minutes into the game and then found the end zone for their only offensive score of the night as time expired in the fourth quarter on a short pass from backup quarterback Juwan Maze to Jarod McKey.
But other than that, an athletic Heard County defense more than did its part to help the No. 6 Braves (10-0, 8-0) cap off a perfect regular-season run and the program’s first region championship since 2006.
“You know, they prepared hard. That’s what they did — and that was the difference. Just getting film time in and getting the reps and seeing things over and over. Coach Curbow put together a great plan and the staff worked hard. I mean, you have to do those things when you’re playing a good offensive team — and they are. Bowdon can break you at any time,” Barron said. “So I’m proud. But the biggest thing is the way they prepared.”
Bowdon coach Dwight Hochstetler’s offense never did get clicking on Friday, netting just 21 yards and the one first down in the opening half. It then saw its best drive of the night when the game was still in contention — a seven-play, 65-yard march — result in a turnover on downs when quarterback Marcus Thurman was stopped one yard short of moving the chains at the Heard County 20 late in the third quarter.
Hochstetler said it was just an overall tough night for his offense, which entered the game averaging 37 points per contest.
“Yeah, it was. Heard’s got a good football team. We just made too many mistakes to win a big ball game like [Friday]. You just can’t do that,” Hochstetler said.
The Braves were also a bit sluggish during the opening half, turning the ball over three times and committing a number of penalties that negated some positive gains.
Sophomore standout Duranta Dunson lost the ball on the second carry of the night for Heard County, leading to a scoop and score by Thurman to put Bowdon up 7-0 with 9:11 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Braves regrouped on the ensuing possession, though, tying the game up at 7-all on a three-yard Tori Rogers run to cap off a 14-play, 65-yard scoring drive with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter.
After the Braves lost their third fumble of the half at the Bowdon 22-yard line early in the second quarter, their defense was able to hold strong, forcing a turnover on downs to keep it a 7-7 contest.
Bowdon’s defense was up to the task, as well, seemingly forcing a Brave punt on fourth-and-five from the HC 24-yard line. But the Red Devils were whistled for a sideline penalty, giving Heard County a new set of downs and new life at the 29-yard line.
The Braves ultimately made Bowdon pay on a huge, 50-yard touchdown strike from Jonathan Hunt to Damon Pearson for a 14-7 advantage with 1:33 left in the half.
What was so crazy about that particular play is the fact that Heard County had just gotten flagged for 35 yards worth of penalties — two holding calls and a personal foul — making it first-and-43 from the 50-yard line when Hunt connected with Pearson down the visiting sidelines.
Barron said it gave his team a big lift going into the locker room.
“Damon Pearson went up and made a great catch, [and] Hunt threw a pretty ball. Obviously, that was big to get the kids rolling before the half,” Barron said.
Early in the second half, Heard County’s Dilian Bradley intercepted a Thurman pass, setting up a three-yard touchdown run by Dunson to stretch the score to 21-7 with 8:23 left in the third quarter. The Braves put the finishing touches on the win with an eight-yard Rogers touchdown run with 6:21 left in the fourth.
Of course, Bowdon needed to win by seven points on Friday night to earn the No. 1 seed, but will now fall to No. 3 and face second-seeded Washington-Wilkes (9-1) in the opening round of the state playoffs next Friday in Washington. The top-seeded Braves, meanwhile, play host to No. 4 Rabun County (6-4) at Staples Stadium next Friday.
Manchester (8-2) will be the No. 2 seed out of Region 5, while Kendrick held off Spencer to earn the No. 4 seed, ending Bremen’s season and hope for a mini-game on Monday.
As for Friday’s festivities in Bowdon, Dunson led the Braves offensively with 151 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, while Hunt completed 5-of-10 passes for 103 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Pearson hauled in three receptions for 73 yards and a score and Rogers had two touchdown runs, picking up 28 yards on eight carries.
Darnell Holland led Bowdon with 67 yards on nine carries, while Chris Keith added 43 yards on 13 carries.