The Braves had 16 offensive plays gain 10 or more yards and nine plays that covered 20 or more yards in finishing with a staggering 515 yards of total offense. Leading the way was fullback Ta Freeland, who had nine carries for 66 yards and added three receptions for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
However, Heard County coach Tim Barron — whose team is off to its best start since an 11-0 run to open the 2006 season — wasn’t all smiles about his team’s performance on the offensive side of the ball.
“We want to execute better on offense than what we did,” said Barron, who has led the Braves to seven straight state playoff berths. “We have to be mentally ready out there and we weren’t. [Chattahoochee County] put a lot of guys in the box and we were able to get some creases on them and big-play them. I’m disappointed we didn’t execute better.”
Heard County’s defense came up big when the Braves needed it most, keeping the Panthers scoreless on three drives inside the Braves’ 5-yard line. The Braves intercepted a pass and twice forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs.
“We’ve got to finish drives,” said Panther coach Russell Morgan. “We played about as well as we’ve played all season in the first half and should’ve been down 14-7 at worst. But we didn’t score and that came back to get us.”
Chattahoochee County (2-3, 0-3 Region 5-AA) had some momentum early, stopping the Braves’ opening drive on downs at the Panthers’ 30 and then driving to Heard County’s 3-yard line. However, on a fourth-and-two, Panther quarterback Chris Askew was stopped for no gain and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
Heard County struck on its next possession, as quarterback Jonathan Hunt hit Freeland with a screen pass and Freeland raced 48 yards for a touchdown to give the Braves a 7-0 lead with 11:29 to go in the first half. The Braves (5-0, 3-0) got their second touchdown on an 18-yard run by Tori Rogers to cap off an eight-play, 67-yard drive and took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Panthers had the momentum again at the start of the second half when the Braves muffed the kickoff, giving Chattahoochee County the ball on the Heard County 43-yard line. However, Dilian Bradley picked off Askew — Bradley’s second interception of the game — and two plays later, Duranta Dunson took a hand-off and streaked 53 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0 with 9:59 to go in the third quarter.
Heard tacked on another big play on its next drive, as Hunt hit Freeland with another screen and he took it 60 yards for another score to give the Braves a 27-7 advantage with 3:30 remaining in the quarter.
Dunson scored his second touchdown on a 30-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put Heard up 33-7 and the Braves cruised from there. Heard got one final score on a 55-yard kickoff return by Hunt with 5:45 to go.
Dunson led the Braves’ rushing attack with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and Rogers added 81 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries of his own. For the game, Heard County rolled up 346 rushing yards on 41 carries. Hunt was 5-for-13 for 169 yards and two touchdowns through the air.