For the first time since 2006 Coach Tim Barron and the Braves advanced to the second round of the Class AA state playoffs Friday night at Staples Stadium where they blasted the Rabun County Wildcats 56-29 in front of a herd of Braves fans.
Four second quarter touchdowns broke open the game which was tied after one quarter at 7-7. The Wildcat defense could not find any answers to stopping the potent Braves offense which rolled up 637 total yards including 491 on the ground.
Junior Ta Freeland had another huge night offensively rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries and he also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jonathon Hunt in the second quarter. Hunt finished with another impressive game passing for 146 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition to the Freeland score Hunt also delivered touchdown passes to Senior Dillian Bradley (43 yards) and Tori Rogers (25 yards).
The Braves defense once again played well despite a couple of impressive scoring drives by the Wildcat offense which was led by quarterback Wes Holcombe. Holcombe was 14-of-26 passing for 200 yards with his primary target being Clint Scott who finished with 142 yards on nine catches including a 19-yard touchdown catch which capped a 90-yard drive to tie the game near the end of the first quarter.
The Braves owned the second quarter thanks to a couple of Wildcat miscues. A fumbled exchange recovered by Elijah Toney was critical to the Braves who scored twice in under thirty seconds to extend the lead to 21-7 with just over a minute gone by in the second.
Sophomore standout Duranta Dunson also added to his huge season totals gaining 171 yards on 15 carries and scoring two touchdowns as he surpassed the 1500 yard mark for the season.
After going to the break with a 35-7 advantage the Braves did not waste much time in the second half opening with a 57-yard touchdown from Senior Qua Reid on the first play from scrimmage.
Tori Rogers (#7) runs the ball versus the Wildcats as Dalton Pate (#79) and Ta Freeland (#8) provide big blocks
The big Braves lineman continued to set the pace as they have all year long. Dalton Pate, Jace Mock, Jake Edwards, Corey Freeman, Levi Brown, Dylan Yates, Cody Stephens, and Taron Person continued to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
For the Wildcats, the highly touted freshman receiver/free safety Charlie Woerner proved to be all that was advertised making several big tackles on defense and showing tremendous speed for a freshman.
Coach Barron was pleased by the performance of the Braves who moved to 11-0 on the season. “It feels good to get past this first game. We felt really good about this match-up coming in. We knew if we could get our athletes into space we could have some success. We were very impressed with how hard the Wildcats play and how well they execute. Their coaching staff has done some great things with that program,” stated Barron after the game. “Our defense played well with the exception of a couple of drives but when you have an offense that executes as well as they do they are going to have their moments.”
The Braves (11-0) will now take on the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans (8-3) a private school from Region 6-AA who defeated Model (7-AA) Friday night 35-6. The Braves have struggled against Region 6-AA the past several years being bounced from the playoffs by Lovett in 2006, Buford in 2008, and Blessed Trinity in 2011.
Coach Barron hopes that his year will be different. “Next week is a big challenge for us. This GAC match-up is probably the biggest game in the history of our program. Getting past round two would be a huge statement for our program. We really want to get over that hump. The biggest difference this year is we have changed a lot of what we have done throughout the season so that the kids don’t have the same wear and tear that we have put on them in the past and hopefully this is gonna have them hungrier. I know our kids are going to work hard.”
The winner of this big game will take on the winner between Early County (1-AA) and Screven County (3-AA).
In other playoff games involving Region 5-AA teams, Manchester advanced by defeating Greene County 41-23 and will now take on Lovett in round two. Bowdon was eliminated 66-28 by Washington-Wilkes and Kendrick was knocked off by Jefferson 42-8. (Image courtesy of THE WARCRY)