Dawson County coach Sid Maxwell said his team played well in all three phases during its 45-27 win at North Hall on Friday night.
But special teams were probably the most important.
Thanks to three big plays in the kicking game, the Tigers ran away with their Region 7-AAA opener at The Brickyard and collected their first win against the Trojans in the schools’ third meeting. Dawson County (3-1, 1-0) scored 35 second-half points after trailing North Hall (4-2, 1-1) 14-10 at halftime.
“One thing that we’ve been pretty good on all year is special teams,” Trojans coach David Bishop said. “It hurt us some tonight, which is kind of a surprise.”
Dawson County junior quarterback Coey Watson terrorized the defense all night, often using his legs to help him complete 19-of-28 passes for 223 yards and four total touchdowns. The Tigers defense, meanwhile, kept North Hall’s wing-T attack from establishing any consistency behind a strong performance from senior linebacker Luke Martin.
“We’re trying to be physical, too. We work hard in the weight room and, again, try to play fast,” Maxwell said. “They’re a good football team, and we were very fortunate to be able to maintain their line of scrimmage with what we do.”
Dawson County built a 10-0 first-half lead with a 39-yard field goal by junior Peyton Allen and an 18-yard scoring strike from Watson to senior Nick Murphy.
In need of a spark for its mostly lackluster running game, North Hall found that in senior Maddox Turner. He ripped off gains of 18 and 41 yards before junior Jack Brown rumbled into the end zone from 8 yards out to cut into the deficit.
The Trojans kept the momentum rolling when junior Cutter Sanford intercepted a pass across the middle that got tipped by senior Mac Bennett. Brown scored on a 1-yard toss minutes later.
The Tigers missed a 40-yard field goal before halftime, but North Hall squandered two bigger chances in the first half. Bishop elected to go for it on fourth down from Dawson County’s 28- and 5-yard lines on separate possession, only for the Tigers to stand tall twice.
“Even if we kick a field goal, it’s still a one-score game,” Bishop said. “I have faith in our kids, and I felt like we could get it. That’s just part of it. You take chances sometimes, and three points wouldn’t have mattered, in my opinion.”
Dawson County surged out of halftime, sandwiching senior Kolton Brumbelow’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 29-yard touchdown pass from Watson to Murphy around a North Hall three-and-out.
The Trojans followed with their most methodical drive of the night, converting a handful of short-yardage third downs before senior fullback Kyle Bacus scored from the 1-yard line to make it 24-21.
Bishop called for an onside kick that scooted out of bounds, and North Hall unraveled from there.
“We felt like we could get it, and we were just a little bit short of getting it,” the third-year coach said. “I’d do it again if I could.”
A suddenly potent running attack — which Maxwell attributed to the Trojans’ fatigue — helped Dawson County convert a fourth-and-inches situation. The Tigers turned the great field position into points when Watson connected with Martin for a 6-yard score.
An errant snap punt set up a 2-yard quarterback sneak by Watson, and senior running back Payton Myers busted a 33-yard touchdown scamper after another North Hall three-and-out.
The Trojans scored a late touchdown on a 7-yard pass from senior quarterback Jackson Madonna to junior Noah Holman, but the string of special teams miscues were too much to overcome.
“Any time you get a region win, I don’t care who you play, it’s a positive,” Maxwell said. “These young men did a great job, and my staff did a great job with adjustments. I couldn’t be happier with the way everybody worked together to play.”
North Hall travels to Lumpkin County next Friday, while Dawson will play at home against Union County.