October 27, 2020

Senior stars lead Braves past Pepperell

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Brave football team moved one step closer to school history Friday night after knocking off a formidable Pepperell Dragon squad 41-28 in the second round of the GHSA Class AA State Playoffs.

Seniors Jaden Moreland and Emory Jones were both phenomenal to lead the way with each turning in their top performances of the year.

Moreland had huge nights on both offense and defense but it was likely his special teams play that truly set the tone for the game as he blocked both a PAT attempt and a field goal in the first half.

Also the most prolific passing tandem in school history, Jones found Moreland on a 56-yard TD pass on the opening drive of the game to put the Braves up 7-0 with less than a minute gone by but the Dragons would respond with a long scoring drive of their own to knot the contest at 7-7 midway through the first.

Jones would scamper in from seven yards out for the first of his four rushing touchdowns to put the Braves on top 14-7 late in the first following the PAT from junior Jakab Moon.

Moon along with freshman holder Leroy Marsh and sophomore snapper Wyn Denney have been one of the most surprising aspects of the Brave special teams play this year following the graduation of three seniors at the positions last season.

Pepperell continued to move the ball well and scored another TD with 10:06 to go in the half but Moreland’s block of the PAT left the Braves holding a slim 14-13 lead.

The Dragons tried to squib kick all night to keep the ball out of the hands of the Braves elite athletes but the up players like Komari Clark and junior Riley Diedrich did a great job of covering up and protecting on the recoveries. Jones would find Moreland again for a 64-yard TD pass on the first play of the next drive to extend the Brave lead to 21-13.

The Braves would get the ball back late in the half after the blocked field goal from Moreland and as they have done several times this season the Braves would drive it in to take a 28-13 lead with under a minute to play in the half. The key play of the drive came on a 4th down and one from the Braves own 18.

The Braves would again be aggressive on a short 4th down in their own territory as they have many times during Barron’s career but it was offensive coordinator Randall Curbow that made the call. Emory Jones would not only gain the needed first down yardage but would break off a long run into Dragon territory.

 “Coach Curbow said he had no doubt we could make it and we did,” said coach Tim Barron after the game. “But that’s the thing. You have to have good coaches, and you have to trust their decisions.”

After the teams exchanged possessions in the third quarter, the Dragons closed the gap to 28-21 following a TD and a two-point conversion with 2:49 to play in the third quarter.

That slim margin would not last long however as Jones blasted it in on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive. Jones took it 48 yards after a nice kick return from Aaron Beasley to make it 35-21.

Chris Carroll would blast the ensuing kickoff deep into the end zone to leave the Dragon offense with a long field. Jaden Moreland’s school record 15th career interception would set up another Jones rushing score to make it 41-21. The big play of the drive came on a 4th down completion to Alijah Huzzie.

Jones finished a monster night with 172 yards rushing on 16 carries and four TD’s. Including his two passing scores, Jones accounted for all six Brave TD’s on the night. He was 7-for-9 through the air for 164 yards and two TD’s. it was a clear example why every recruiter in the country ranks him so highly as a dual threat quarterback.

The Braves also had a great effort by the big guys up front with Michael Cheney, Brenden Thompson, David Urquilla, Jaidan Cameron, and freshman Anthony Graley all playing well to open it up for Jones.

Moreland had an awesome night statistically with 132 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions offensively, the blocked PAT and field goal on special teams, and the crucial interception on defense. Moreland also became the first receiver in school history to cross the 1000 yard receiving mark and he now has 1030 for the season and 1970 yards in his career.

The senior multi-purpose star says the team thought coming into the game they might be able to get a field goal or extra point block on special teams.

“I tightened down on the edge  as far as I could because we thought they might be weaker on that side. We had worked on that block left this week and it paid off tonight,” said Moreland after the game.

Barron knows that Moreland and Jones are two of the most special talents he has coached during his 16 year tenure with the Braves.

“Emory and Jaden are both special players and very special kids. They love to battle and when you are as competitive as they are — you can win,” Barron says. “If you look at Jaden on paper, he isn’t going to overwhelm you — but with his intangibles like emotions, preparation and his confidence — he is just a strong leader for us.”

“We knew their offense was going to be a big challenge this week. Coach D.J. Curbow breaks these teams down each week and he knew coming in what we were facing. I thought our defense battled hard and we’ve had some injuries so we just have to get some of these newer guys some more reps and experience,” added Barron. “But I was so proud of our effort — you could see the hunger in their eyes tonight.”

Following a universal coin flip yesterday, the Braves will now travel to Thomasville to face the No. 3 state ranked and fellow top seeded Bulldogs from Region 1–AA. The Bulldogs knocked off Dublin this week by a final score of 44-22 to earn their quarterfinal berth.

The Braves will be attempting to become the first team in school history to make the state final four next week and the 11th win of the season last night also tied a school record shared by the 2006 and 2012 Brave teams that each finished 11-1. Friday’s round three match-up will kick off at 8:00 PM in Thomasville.

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