DAWSONVILLE — Survive and advance. That’s the name of the game come playoff time, and Dawson County took that motto to heart in its 22-12 win over Spencer Friday night at Tigers Stadium.
With the win, the Tigers set a school mark for most wins in a season (9) and will advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history to face No. 2 Blessed Trinity, who defeated Jefferson 38-12 to set up the matchup. The Tigers won a coin flip Saturday morning and will play host to Friday's game.
“Dawson County’s fighting for respect,” Tigers coach Sid Maxwell said. “Never been here before. We just get back to work and whoever we play really doesn’t matter. At this stage, with eight teams left, you could probably go one through eight and none of them will be easy ones.”
The Tigers built a 15-6 lead at halftime on a 31-yard fade route by Tucker Maxwell to the corner of the end zone for a pass from sophomore quarterback Coey Watson for the score with 1:41 left.
“I knew Tucker could outrun him,” Watson said. “I just put it up. I have a lot of trust in my receivers because they’re all great, so I just put it up and let him run under it.”
Dawson County got the ball to start the second half and looked to build upon the momentum gained from its late first-half score. Then things changed.
With just over a minute elapsed in the half, the Tigers found themselves without Maxwell and running back Hunter Mitchell (10 carries for 59 yards in the first half), both injured within two plays. It was up to Watson to take charge.
With the help of a stiff defense, Watson was able to do just enough on the ground to fend off the pesky Greenwave Owls.
“It was an exciting game, it was fun all the way through,” Watson said. ”Defense was awesome this game. It was hard without our weapons, but we stuck through. I had to run the ball a lot more which is not a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing.”
The Greenwave Owls were able to score on their first possession of the second half, following the injures to Maxwell and Hunter, to cut the lead to 15-12. Spencer was dealing with injuries of its own as starting right guard Ye’Majesty Sanders suffered a knee injury late in the half and needed help limping to the sidelines to watch the second half.
“It really hurt,” Sanders said. “But just being on the sideline with them, win or lose, grinding with them, it was the best thing really.
Spencer, and especially running back Tyrell Smith, seemed to feed off of Sanders’ leadership. Smith rushed for 60 yards on Spencer’s only scoring drive of the second half, including a 12-yard touchdown run behind a reshuffled offensive line.
It looked like momentum had swung, but Watson had a response. Without his top two playmakers, he lead the Tigers on a 14-play, 65-yard drive, where he completed a 26-yard pass to Nick Murphy on third-and-11. He then ran it the final four plays for 25 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to give the Tigers’ defense enough of a cushion to hold on.
“The biggest thing about (the injuries), we hit big plays when we had to hit big plays,” Watson said. “We were clutch in situations. It was a lot harder but at the same time, we have to carry on.”
The Dawson County offense went three-and-out the rest of the way on three drives, but the defense held strong. The Tigers held Spencer scoreless for the final 17:37. It wasn’t dominating, but some key tackles, including a fourth-and-goal at the 1, and an interception helped them seal the win.
“It’s a bend-but-don’t-break,” Maxwell said “We made some plays and it’s a team effort. When you get this far in the playoffs, it takes everybody in all phases working to get you there.”
The game started out strong for Dawson when Spencer muffed the opening kickoff. After Spencer punted away its opening possession, Dawson was forced to punt it from the Spencer 34 yard line and Murphy was able to pin the Greenwave Owls inside their own 1-yard line.
Throwing from his own end zone, Spencer quarterback Khalil Thomas’s pass was intercepted and returned to the 10-yard line. Four plays later, Maxwell threw a pass out of the wildcat for the game’s opening score.
Murphy had another key punt land at the 10-yard line late in the game to help Dawson County ice the game.