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Spartans' heroic rally thwarted by late Oconee TD
Warriors hold on for wild 42-38 victory in state playoff opener
West Hall running back Tyquan Statham gets a block from Hykeem Bennet and scores Friday night during the Spartans' first half of the Region 7-AAA playoffs with Oconee County at Spartan Field.

Warriors 42, Spartans 38

Difference maker: Oconee County wide receiver Chase Major. Major had four receptions for 194 yards, all going for at least 31 yards. His first, a 56-yarder, was a touchdown, and the other three were all on drives that ended in touchdowns. Major’s 31-yard reception was a key play in the decisive scoring drive.

Stat that matters: 2 West Hall fumbles that led to 14 Warriors points. Oconee County capitalized on both fumbles the Spartans lost in the first half, helping the Warriors build a 35-14 halftime edge.

Turning point: On third-and-15 on the decisive drive, Roques Dowdy pulled in an 18-yard reception that moved Oconee County to the West Hall 48. After an offsides penalty, he pulled in the decisive 43-yard scoring pass from Zeb Noland.

What’s next: Oconee County (8-3) advances to play at Pierce County in next Friday’s Class AAA second round.

The running of Kwon Williams and Tyquan Statham was a perfect analogy for the West Hall football team’s mentality on Friday night. Quite simply, the Spartans refused to go down without a fight.

Despite falling behind 35-14 at halftime thanks in part to a pair of costly fumbles, West Hall rode the tackle-breaking, tenacious approach of Williams and Statham to eventually take a late lead before falling 42-38 to Oconee County in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs in Oakwood.

“They played their hearts out,” third-year West Hall coach Tony Lotti said. “It’s what we talked about in there at halftime. I’m so proud of how we showed who we really are because it’s games like this that will test a man’s character. My kids, they didn’t bow to it. They came out and they fought all the way to the end.”

Even having the Region 7-AAA title in hand couldn’t ease the immediate sting of Friday night for West Hall, which finished 9-2. Hugs, tears and words of encouragement flowed freely on Spartan Field as what was nearly a dramatic victory turned into a heartbreaking loss.

“There’s no words. Trust me, I prayed for them, to get some kind of words that will make them feel better,” said Lotti, fighting back his own tears. “There’s just not. This is going to hurt, and I hurt because they hurt. It’s really that simple.”

The Warriors (8-3) advance to play at Pierce County next week.

After trailing 35-14 through two quarters, West Hall scored 24 unanswered points in the final two quarters to take a 38-35 lead on a 32-yard Bradley Hodgson field goal with 3:41 remaining, 10 plays after the Warriors’ Christian Casey fumbled inside the West Hall 30.

West Hall had tied it at 35-all with 11:22 left on a 77-yard touchdown run in which Williams outran the defense, then was caught but broke a tackle at the 10-yard line.

Momentum was fully with the Spartans as Oconee County fell down fielding the kickoff following Hodgson’s field goal. But six plays and 93 yards later, Zeb Noland found Roques Dowdy for a 43-yard touchdown pass down the left side and a four-point edge with 59.2 seconds left.

Dowdy had his only two receptions of the night, for 61 yards, on that drive.

The Spartans drove from their own 27 to their 40-yard line before Dylan Phillips’ interception foiled West Hall quarterback Jacob Satterfield’s attempt to throw the ball away on the right sideline with 25 seconds left.

Oconee kneeled down twice to run out the clock.

Williams totaled 183 yards and two scores on 17 carries, with Tyquan Statham adding 89 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and Tyrese Osborne pitching in 53 yards and a score on 13 carries. Satterfield completed five passes for 94 yards.

Casey paced Oconee County with 172 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, with Chase Major pulling in four receptions for 194 yards and a score.

West Hall began its comeback with Williams returning the opening kickoff of the third quarter 47 yards to the Spartans 49. Five plays later, Williams plowed through a sequence that drew a defensive facemask penalty to carry tacklers into the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown run to cut it to 35-21.

“Momentum’s a funny thing, and I’ve been on both sides of it,” Lotti said. “What we were trying to do is create things that would get us momentum.”

After a defensive stop for West Hall and a 21-yard punt by Oconee County, the Spartans only had to go 41 yards for their next score. Tyquan Statham jump-started that drive with a 25-yard run, and Isaiah Rowe finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run to pull the Spartans to within a score at 35-28 with 4:17 to go in the third quarter.

Williams’ 77-yard dash came on the second play of the fourth quarter, five plays after another defensive stand, to tie it up.

“I told our coaches at halftime that they were getting ready to make a surge because they’re just so talented and have so much speed,” Oconee coach Travis Noland said. “(I’m) just really proud of how our kids came out and started the game and then how they withstood the surge there.”

The Warriors jumped to a 14-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes on a 5-yard Phillips touchdown reception and a 56-yard Major scoring reception, which came one play after a Tyquan Statham fumble.

Tyquan Statham’s 18-yard touchdown run while shedding tacklers cut it to 14-7, but Noland’s 1-yard scoring run pushed it back to 21-7 with 2:26 left in the opening quarter.

A 64-yard Ty Statham kickoff return set up a 9-yard Osborne touchdown that pulled West Hall back within 21-14 by the end of the first quarter.

A Casey 3-yard touchdown run and a Jaleel Laguins 5-yard scoring run, set up by Williams’ fumble of a punt, pushed it to the three-touchdown halftime margin.

“We turned the ball over,” Lotti said. “And we haven’t done that all year. We had some mental breakdowns. Hat’s off to Oconee. They converted and made plays.”

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