By Curtis Haban, contributing writer
TIGER – The Rabun County Wildcats kicked off the 2019 state playoffs with a commanding 38-0 victory over the B.E.S.T. Academy Eagles Friday night at Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium.
Wildcat faithful have become accustomed to efficient offensive explosions from its #1 offense in the state and defensive prowess from its #7 defense in the state. This game did not disappoint in either regard.
The game began nearly an hour late due to the Eagles experiencing transportation troubles en route to Rabun. Their troubles continued on the field as the Wildcats took command early and shut them out of the scoring column altogether, while forcing a running clock in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff on a 5:05 minute, 11-play drive that went 40 yards, ending with an Edwin Diaz 35-yard field goal. The drive featured three receptions by junior Sutton Jones totaling 20 yards and two key third-and-long conversions.
Senior Braxton Hicks converted a third and seven with a 13-yard catch, and Sophomore Gunner Stockton converted a third and nine with a tough 13-yard run.
The Eagles opening drive came to an abrupt end at four plays and nine yards when the Wildcat defense sniffed out and stuffed a fourth and one inside run at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
After taking over on downs near midfield, the Wildcat offense went to work with a five play 45 yard drive that included two catches by Senior Sam Adams for 21 yards and a beautiful catch by Hicks, in the back of the end zone from 27 yards out, for a touchdown.
The Eagles went backwards in response. Two Eagle penalties compounded by a sack and tackle for loss on back-to-back plays by Senior William Hightower resulted in a minus 13-yard drive and a punt from deep in their own territory.
As the second quarter opened, the Wildcats received the punt. The ball rolled to the Eagle 4-yard line but the Eagles committed a 15-yard penalty to ultimately bring the ball down to their own 27-yard line.
With the short field, the Wildcat offense took five plays to score again on a final Stockton three-yard run.
Into this drive, Stockton was a perfect 10 for 10 passing for 111 yards.
Needing to gain some traction, the Eagles started their third drive on their 31-yard line. At this point they had run only seven plays that produced a negative four yards of net offense.
However, they could only move the ball six yards, as the Wildcats tough run defense continued to plug the holes and contain the running game. Sophomore Hunter Moore, in the secondary, also provided excellent defense on the deep ball attempt on the drive.
The Wildcats’ ensuing drive was stopped on a three-and-out and the game seemed to enter a grind stage for the offense as the Eagle’s defense stiffened.
The Wildcat defense continued to push the Eagles back with big plays. The Eagles were stopped by back to back sacks and a forced fumble produced by Junior Brody Jarrard, Sophomore Will Turpin and Sophomore Will McGraw.
But the Eagles defense stayed tough by maintaining a harassing pass rush. They stalled the remaining three Wildcat drives, before the half, by holding firm on a fourth down and forcing two more three and outs.
Not to be outdone, the Wildcat defense continued to throw the Eagle offense in reverse during the same period of the game through two Eagle drives.
Windham and Hightower combined on a tackle for a two yard loss. Windham followed with another sack and six yard loss on the next play. Moore, again, hung tough and allowed no separation in pass defense.
Senior Garrett Bragg stopped an Eagle drive on its first play by snagging an interception and returning it 35 yards.
Incredibly, the Wildcat defense held the Eagles offense to only 10 net offensive yards in the first half. But, the Eagle defense began to assert itself into the second quarter and kept the score close.
Both teams headed to the locker room at halftime with the Wildcats holding a 17-0 lead.
The third quarter was a continuation of the Wildcat defense being in absolute control over the Eagle offense. The Eagles never crossed the 50 yard line.
The Eagle’s starting drive ended with one yard on a three-and-out. The second drive ended with a three and out and a total of minus ten yards after a well defended deep ball by Moore and back to back sacks from Jarrard, Hightower, McGraw and Senior Phillip Roberson combined.
The Wildcat initial drive of the second half started fast. Two quick passes to Adams for seven and eight yards negated the Eagle’s pass rush. Then, at the Eagle’s 44 yard line, Stockton found Hicks on a quick slant off the right side. Hicks did the rest by out running the Eagle defense to the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
The next Wildcat drive went six plays and 53 yards. The drive was sparked by a diving 31 yards reception by Adams and capped off by a Stockton roll out and one yard scamper for a touchdown.
On their next drive, the Eagles offense responded with their biggest play of the game. A second down pass from their 20-yard line connecting for 23 yards. The drive ultimately stalled after a short rushing gain and two incompletions.
Freshman Corey Keller led the next Wildcat drive with three runs for total of 30 yards before the drive stalled on fourth down.
On the Eagle’s first offensive play after taking over on downs, a swarming Wildcat defense took possession of the ball in a wild play.
Jarrard chased the Eagle’s quarterback down for a sack while stripping the ball away. McGraw dove for the loose ball and flipped it back to Turpin who tried to break away from the scrum but was tackled after a short run to the Eagle 25-yard line.
The Wildcats capitalized on their next drive and another short field. Sophomore Tate Ramey hauled in an 11-yard catch as the third quarter came to a close. Keller then pounded a nine-yard run in the middle and scored on a follow up run from one yard out.
With the score 38-0 in the Wildcat’s favor, a running clock was initiated as the fourth quarter began.
The Eagles seemed to gain some traction by moving the ball eight plays and 35 yards with some hard running and two completions. However, on second and one near midfield, Windham snagged an interception returning it in traffic to the Eagles 31-yard line.
On the Wildcat’s ensuing drive, Sophomore Hogan Woodard hauled in a seven yard reception but the drive stalled.
A 43-yard field goal attempt was missed turning the ball back over to the Eagles with 1:20 left to play.
The Eagles were sacked for minus seven yards on their first play and the clock ran out as their last run was halted for no gain.
“Our team battled all night. We just kept swinging. We were able to wear them down in the second half. Everyone played hard. I’m so proud of this team and proud of this community. Thank you for supporting us,” said head coach Jaybo Shaw after the game.
The Wildcat offense racked up 339 total yards of offense. Stockton was 21 of 30 passing (.700) for 246 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 45 yards rushing and 2 more touchdowns. Keller also added 48 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
Hicks recorded 5 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had 7 catches for 57 yards. Adams hauled in 5 catches for 69 yards. Woodard caught two passes for 11 yards and Ramey had one catch for 11 yards.
Diaz converted all five PATs and added a field goal.
The Wildcat defense was simply suffocating. It produced 6.5 sacks, 10 overall tackles for loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Overall, the Wildcat defense held the Eagles offense to an astonishing minus eight net yards rushing and only 59 yards of total offense.
The #2 ranked Wildcats (11-0) will face the Toombs County Bulldogs (8-2) representing the #2 seed from region 2AA on Friday Nov. 22.
Kickoff is 7:30pm at Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium.
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