Dawson County coach Sid Maxwell has many blessings to count — his defense being one of them — after Friday night’s 38-24 win over East Hall.
A colossal effort by the Tigers’ defense, including three goal line stands in the first half and two second-half interceptions, proved to be the driving force for Dawson County over a tireless Vikings unit at East Hall Stadium.
“Anytime you keep momentum on your side, it’s just always a blessing,” Maxwell said.
Fans who may have been expecting a high-scoring affair could have been left scratching their heads after what was a 3-0 game at the halfway point.
Miscues and self-inflicted wounds were the Kryptonite for a usually high-octane Tiger offense. The Tigers (6-1, 4-0 Region 7-AAA) fumbled from inside their own 35 yard-line on back-to-back drives in the first half, which could have resulted in points for East Hall.
Both offenses awakened the second half, and like two high-octane offenses should, began to rack up points. The third quarter had three lead changes, and both squads went on to total more than 600 yards of offense in the end.
"You know, we knew going in they were gonna score points," Maxwell said. "We just usually have been able to keep up with people in the past, and we couldn't take care of the football early. You can't do that, and if you're fortunate enough to have three turnovers and still win, you're blessed."
Quarterback Austin Parker played a big part in East Hall’s resurgence. He completed passes to five different receivers for 244 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. His longest was a 72-yard bomb to Markese Jackson (seven catches, 148 yards, two touchdowns) to put the Vikings on the board.
Parker dropped back, pumped once and aired it out to Jackson in-stride, who scampered to the end zone at the 8:28 mark. That came two plays after Dawson took a 10-3 lead on a Payton Allen (77 rushing yards, two TDs) rushing plunge to start the third quarter.
"They're quick," Dawson County quarterback Coey Watson said. "They'll beat you in open space, they move so well. Can't say enough about Markese. He's a freak, man. He's something else, and Austin Parker, they just need to keep playing because they're two great players. The whole team is great."
But the Vikings were unable to fully recover from their red zone woes, which plagued potential scoring drives for the Vikings. They found themselves on Dawson’s 1-yard line three times in the first half, but were halted on all three occasions.
“When you play good defenses, you’re gonna have to punch it in when you get down there in short yardage,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “We knew that we were gonna have to do some things to score down there, and they did a great job stopping us. And that’s football.”
The Vikings were also snuffed by the Tigers on their second possession of the game from Dawson’s 32-yard line. On a fourth-and-6, Parker (25 of 36 passing, 334 yards, three TDs, two interceptions) was brought down short of the first down by senior Clint Garrett.
“Just the whole season, ever since the West Hall game, we preached toughness,” said senior linebacker Luke Martin, one of the staples on defense. “When we get on the goal line, we’re not gonna back down, we’re not gonna back down from anybody.”
A fumble on Dawson’s second drive put the Vikings on the 31-yard line. Parker found an opening and weaved his way for 18 yards down to the 7, and two running plays brought the Vikings inside the 1. But the Vikings turned it over on downs on the next play when Parker was wrapped up by Jeremy Whalen on fourth down.
Another fumble recovery by Tripp Rider on the 38 presented yet another opportunity midway through the second quarter. Parker was sacked deep in the backfield by defensive lineman Taylor Swafford five plays later, and Parker’s pass attempt on fourth-and-9 fell incomplete.
The Vikings’ final charge of the half saw two big completions by Parker to Markese Jackson of 33 and 30 yards to put the Vikings on Dawson’s 3. But a running play fell a foot shy of breaking the plane, and with no timeouts remaining, the clock was ticking away. The Vikings were flagged for an illegal procedure on third and goal, and Parker’s final pass attempt was broken up by Loghan Armstrong from the end zone.
Dawson struck first on East Hall’s opening drive of the game, as Parker was picked off on the fourth play from scrimmage by defensive back Noah Brock and returned the East Hall’s 23. The Tigers had to settle for a 24-yard Cole Dennis field goal at the 9:40 mark to put the Tigers ahead first.
The Tigers were able to pull away late in the second half. Quarterback Coey Watson finished with 63 rushing yards and and two rushing touhdowns of one and four yards. A 43-yard rushing score by running back Ryan Glass capped the night for the Tigers' offense with 9:49 left to play.
The Tigers have Lumpkin County next, while East Hall (2-6, 0-4 Region 7-AAA) has a matchup with North Hall at the Brickyard.