DAWSONVILLE — Dawson County’s stay in the 2016 Class AAA playoffs was significantly shorter than last year’s.
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead but were eventually overwhelmed in a 49-28 loss to No. 8 Lovett on Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
The defeat bounced Dawson County (7-3) from the first round of the playoffs after the squad reached its first-ever state quarterfinals last season.
“I don’t know if we pressed or the ball just bounced the wrong way, but we had a little more difficulty tonight than we did in the past,” Tigers coach Sid Maxwell said. “I don’t know if it’s the moment or just the stars aligning. They took care of the ball and we didn’t, and that was the outcome of the game. Everything else was pretty much even.”
A 399-yard performance from junior quarterback Coey Watson (21-of-43, four total touchdowns) was soiled by six turnovers — three by him — and 13 penalties. The Tigers were in control for most of the first half before the Lions (8-3) outscored them 35-7 after halftime.
The game started out as a defensive struggle, with both teams trading punts on the first four possessions. After 11 scoreless minutes, Watson hit senior receiver Kolton Brumbelow for a 53-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.
The Tigers then stuffed Lovett on fourth-and-1 near midfield, setting up Watson’s 47-yard scoring bomb to senior receiver Nick Murphy on the next play.
“Our coaches did a great job trying to get mismatches,” Maxwell said. “I think we were able to exploit that with those two plays.”
But the Lions soon caught their first break of the night, recovering a muffed punt on the Tigers’ 42-yard line. Senior quarterback Brady Tindall (21-of-40, five total touchdowns, one interception) hit Ringer for a big gain and connected with sophomore fullback Nick Jackson on third-and-goal to make it 14-7.
“Instead of going up 21, they made it 14-7,” Maxwell said. “The momentum switched.”
Disaster struck again for Dawson County, which fumbled on its next offensive play. Lovett took over just outside the red zone and needed only three plays to score on Tindall’s goal-line sneak.
Watson later marched his team 92 yards to take a 21-14 lead. The junior quarterback powered into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Senior safety Jeremy Whalen snagged an interception with less than a minute before halftime, but junior kicker Peyton Allen couldn’t connect on a 48-yard field goal as time expired.
Dawson County recovered a fumble at Lovett’s 16-yard line to begin the second half, only for senior Cole Dennis’ 30-yard field goal attempt to strike the upright.
“We had our opportunities,” Maxwell said of the missed field goals. “We don’t need to put our heads down.”
That’s when the Lions’ offensive onslaught began.
Lovett marched 80 yards to score on Tindall’s 10-yard fade route to sophomore receiver KJ Wallace. After Ringer intercepted another of Watson’s passes, Tindall again hit Jackson with a goal-line jump pass to give the Lions their first lead of the night.
The next Lovett drive yielded another touchdown, this one a 4-yard reverse by Wallace. The Tigers showed signs of life on the next possession, overcoming a third-and-17 to eventually score on a 21-yard pass from Watson to Murphy.
But Ringer intercepted Watson for the third time on Dawson County’s next possession, and he made sure his turnover counted with a 32-yard touchdown catch with about six minutes to play.
The Tigers didn’t pick up a first down the rest of the night, and Lovett provided the finishing blow on junior running back JT Carr’s 22-yard touchdown scamper.
The loss ended Dawson’s season, but Maxwell still saw signs of progress. The Tigers have hosted playoff games in each of his first two seasons after going 2-8 in 2014.
“We have nothing to be ashamed about,” Maxwell said. “These young men should be proud. Tradition in a program doesn’t happen overnight. We’re moving in the right direction to build a solid program.”