DALTON — Four seconds from the final four.
Dawson County’s run was nearly on to another incredible chapter Friday night when Jordan’s Jeff Blanton drove into the lane and sank a jump shot with a defender in his face and the buzzer seconds away.
The Tigers had no time to respond and fell to the Red Jackets 48-47 in the state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
“I thought it was an unbelievable effort,” said Dawson County coach Thad Burgess. “We were four seconds from going to Macon.”
Needless to say, the fans would have followed.
When the Dawson County (25-7) players walked out of the locker room, the multitude of fans cheered the team that had stunned team after team on the way to a state quarterfinals appearance.
“This team has brought a whole community together,” Burgess said.
Juniors Tyler Dominy and Will Anglin led Dawson County with 12 apiece, and the Tigers imposed their will once again on a team that spent its season running and scoring in bunches.
“You know they’re going to slow it down,” said Jordan coach Gerald Turner. “They’re a very patient team. When they’re patient, you’ve got to be patient.”
And, with neither team able to separate, it came down to the final possessions.
“It was a good game,” said Turner, now bringing his fourth team to the final four. “It could have gone either way.”
Dawson County took its last lead on a free throw by Jonathan Sanderson with just under two minutes remaining at 45-44. Gunnar Armstrong (eight points) extended the lead to three on a pair of free throws with 37 seconds remaining.
Then Jordan (27-3) did what Burgess predicted they would try to do.
“You knew they were going to go hard to the basket,” Burgess said. “We can’t match up with the quickness they have.”
On one drive Jordan forward Brandon Simmons grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in to cut the lead to one with 22 seconds remaining.
After Dawson County missed the first part of a one-and-one, Jordan played for the last shot, and Blanton arced his shot over the defense and into the basket.
The Tigers had imposed their will on how the game would be played, and they put themselves in position for a historic win.
“There’s nobody in that room that could have done more,” Burgess said. “I can’t think of anything more or less that we could have done.”
And even with all of the starters returning, Burgess said he knows that another run would be hard to do. Regardless, the Tigers won’t forget this run.
“I’ve never experienced what these kids were able to do,” Burgess said. “It was a great run.”
Bruce Clark added 10 points for Dawson County, which stayed right with Jordan throughout the game.
Tony Palmer led the Red Jackets with 14 points.
Early on, Dawson County kept Jordan in a slow-paced game. But when the Red Jackets tried to push the pace, the Tigers responded in kind as both teams put on a 3-point show in the first half, with Dawson County finishing with six and Jordan with five as the Tigers took a 28-26 lead into the half.
Anglin led Dawson County with nine first-half points, all on 3-pointers, including two in succession to give Dawson County an early 10-6 advantage.
Jordan, led at the half by Tony Palmer with nine points, scored the final seven points of the quarter to take a 13-10 lead after one.
In the second quarter it was a pair of 3-pointers by Armstrong that put Dawson County ahead once again, a lead it took to the half.
Dawson County outrebounded Jordan 16-10 in the half, but lost the turnover battle 6-4.
The teams traded buckets again in the second half, and then Jordan pulled a page from Buford’s playbook from two nights earlier: It held the ball.
The Red Jackets held the ball for the first four minutes of the final quarter, holding onto a two-point lead.
Turner said he was surprised that Dawson County didn’t contest the possession, and Burgess said his players needed the time to recover.
It didn’t amount to much in the end; Jordan went up by four before losing the lead later in the final quarter, but it was more evidence of Dawson County’s effective zone defense slowing down the game.
Jordan will play the winner of Laney/Morgan County on 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Macon Centreplex in the state semifinals.
This had already been one of the best years in Dawson County program history. The Tigers upset the No. 1 seeds from the North and South subregions en route to their first region championship since 1969.
Dawson County then held off Calhoun in the opening round of the state tournament before shutting down No. 8 Buford, last season’s Class AA state tournament runners-up, in front of a crowd of more than 1,600 in Dawsonville.
The support has been nearly as synonymous with Dawson County during this run as the unique matchup-zone defense. The Tigers had another large display of fan support in Dalton, including a large student section.