In the state playoffs, big time players make big time plays.
That held true tonight as #14 Gunner Stockton and #4 Braxton Hicks lead Rabun County to the win over Toombs.
The Wildcats started the game with the ball, and the first play was a 53-yard pass from Stockton to Hicks. This play really helped set the tone for the game and gave Rabun the start they were looking for. A few plays later, Stockton hit #5 Hogan Woodard for the 13-yard touchdown and give his team a 7-0 lead.
It took them some time, but Toombs responded. After multiple 3rd down conversions, the Bulldogs tied the game on a 27-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes remaining in the first.
Rabun’s offense couldn’t move the ball far when they got it back. After getting one first down, they failed to get another and had to punt. Toombs returned the punt from midfield to the endzone, giving them a 14-7 lead with less than a minute in the quarter.
The Wildcats started the second quarter like it was a new game. A game that they completely dominated. Stockton quickly found Hicks, #15 Sam Adams, and Hicks again, all for first downs. Stockton then kept the ball for a 20-yard gain on the ground. He followed that run up with another, this time for a 4-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Rabun County defense got back on track on the next drive. They forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd down situation, where Hicks proved he could be just as effective on defense. He intercepted the pass, giving his team great field position to start their drive.
Stockton picked up where he left off the previous drive, rushing for 2 quick first downs. He continued to show his mobility by rolling out left, avoiding the sack, moving back to the right, and eventually found Adams for a touchdown, giving them the lead back with 2 minutes to go.
The defense of the Wildcats stepped up again, forcing a quick 3 and out. After a fair catch, the Rabun offense had 1:02 left in the half to score from their own 38. Stockton went right back to Hicks for back-to-back first downs. Stockton then found #34 Tate Ramey for a 25-yard gain, setting up a 29-yard field goal from #82 Edwin Diaz. Time expired as the kick went through the uprights, and the Wildcats took a 24-14 lead into the half.
After Toombs got a quick first down to open the half, the Wildcat defense forced a punt. #42 Cory Keller opened the drive with a quick first down run. Stockton then found Adams and Hicks for 2 more firsts. Keller finished the drive off with a 5-yard touchdown to extend his team’s lead to 31-14 halfway through the 3rd.
Rabun’s defense stepped up again and forced another 3 and out. After a first down run by Keller, and a first down reception from Hicks, the Wildcats had to punt. This was their first punt since the 1st quarter.
The Bulldogs were able to get a first down on their next drive after an unnecessary roughness call. #3 AJ Wheeler erased the momentum by intercepting the ball and taking it to the house. However, the touchdown was erased by a flag. Still, Wheeler set his team up with great field position, as they started from the opposite 35-yard line.
After a quick first down run by Stockton, the offense was stopped short and settled for a field goal. Diaz drilled it from 26 yards out, giving his team the 34-14 lead early in the 4th.
The Wildcats attempted to get the ball back with an onside kick, but it was recovered by Toombs. They started their drive from the Rabun 38-yard line. After a first down, and a few pass interference calls, the Wildcats got the stop on 4th down, giving them the ball back.
Stockton sealed any chance of a comeback with a 33-yard run on first down to get the ball away from the goal line. The offense wasted time, but couldn’t get the first down and had to punt.
The Bulldogs got a first down quickly, but Hicks essentially ended the game with a late interception, his second of the game.
Rabun ran out the clock and won the game 34-14.
They will travel to play at Thomasville next Friday in the quarterfinals.
We’ve been talking about it all summer. I’ve covered more camps than I can count. Young athletes have been out as early as January lifting and preparing for it. Finally on Wednesday I felt it.
Football season is coming.
Wednesday morning bright and early found me on the football field of Fannin County High School covering the last day of their youth football camp. Now as I said a few sentences earlier I’ve been out all summer covering football camps, but this was the first time it really clicked with me that we are only a few weeks away. And I won’t lie, a lot of it had to do with the weather.
There was a slight breeze and I dare to say chill on Wednesday that I hadn’t felt all summer. Granted it was early in the morning and I’m so used to summer heat that even the slightest temperature drop can make me reach for my jacket. But this time, surrounded by young athletes who are the future of their program, it all started to set in.
It’s hard to imagine Friday Night Lights when it’s 90 degrees in Georgia in the middle of July. When I think of football I think of all the late Friday afternoons when I was in high school and the trees were ablaze with the bright orange and reds of fall. I think of the UGA games I’ve gone to where it’s been so cold part of the reason I was standing was not so much to cheer than to try and keep warm.
I will admit, football season has kind of snuck up on me this year. Earlier in the summer, Team FYN Sports was in baseball mode covering the local youth tournaments. I was in baseball mode keeping up with the Braves. But this is the South, and not just the South but SEC stronghold too. So of course even though baseball comes to the forefront, football stays simmering on the back burner at all times. That’s another reason why when I felt that cooler air on Wednesday, I was so easily able to slip back into football mode.
Local high schools start back as early as the week after next, with scrimmages coming the week after and then regular season the week after that. It’s crazy to think how time flies, and for teams that have been out practicing all summer, they realize that this is where the rubber meets the road.
I remember the first story I did for Team FYN Sports involving football was earlier this summer when Dawson County scrimmaged Pickens in a spring game. It took me a moment to realize when I got to the Dawson County field to realize that were weren’t in August, and this being in May we still had another three full months to go. But you couldn’t have told that to either of the two sides that night.
The Dawson County mommas circled up for pre-game prayer, and lined up to form a tunnel for their sons to run through onto the field. Both home and away stands had a decent amount of fans to fill them. Both schools even brought their marching bands, and Pickens brought their cheerleaders. This energy is what I try to convey to everyone when I say that sports, and especially football, create a community rivaled by few other events.
Each time I’ve gone to a camp, or scrimmage, or even just a practice in this community, I’ve seldom been the only one there who is not a part of the team. Parents will come by to see their sons, or even just community members will drop by to get a look at the team before they run out for the first game. There’s something else special about following a team from the ground up, a season from the beginning to end. I know I’m not the only one that feels that way, and it makes my job all the much more enjoyable.
Over the last couple of weeks BKP and I have been going around North Georgia and interviewing coaches from all of the teams we cover. While last week I focused on the coaches and all of the effort that they have been putting in, it’s no overstatement to say that these players have been putting in their fair share too.
And they all seem ready. They’ve all been lifting and getting stronger since the beginning of the year. They’ve been out running drills and working for positions since the weather was warm enough. Now they’re breaking out the pads, helmets and fine tuning plays until it’s time for that first kick-off.
Football season is coming, and from the locker room to the press box, I think we’re all ready.
Over the last week and a half BKP and I have been going from school to school interviewing head football coaches for our North Georgia Coaching Series. Now if any of y’all know BKP, you’ll know what I mean when I say that he’s been doing most of the talking and I’ve been doing most of the observing. But this doesn’t bother me, it gives me a chance to learn more about the programs I’ll be spending a lot of time with this fall.
With that being said, there’s one thing in particular I’ve been noticing in our interviews, and that’s how much these coaches truly care about their players and their programs.
Now me saying that might make some of y’all think, “Well, duh. That’s what they’re supposed to do.” Well, maybe. But I like to think I’m pretty good at picking up when someone is just putting on an act for appearances. And I can say with all sincerity that none of these coaches are doing that.
Obviously when BKP and I go into these interviews, he asks questions about what the teams have been doing during the summer and how they’re planning to prepare for the regular season. But he also asks the coaches if they can highlight a few players that have really stood out. This point in the interview, I believe, is where a coach who didn’t care would possibly just say a couple names and move on.
But these coaches not only name the players, they tell us about why they stand out. And it’s a sign of the hard work of these athletes, but there’s also a sense of pride from these coaches as they name them. A couple of coaches have mentioned that it’s hard to name just a few, because all of their players have worked hard. And it’s not that the rest of the team doesn’t matter or that they don’t care about them, but the ones that they mention they do so without hesitation because they’ve been there with them through the summer truly coaching them. There’s no so-so about the commitment these coaches make- they’re all in.
Another thing that has amazed me about these coaches, not just in the interviews but learning about them off the field, is how much they care about their community as well. A couple of them, such as Chad Cheatham at Fannin County and Chad McClure at Hayesville, are natives to their communities. It’s home to them, and they’re not going to be just halfway in their commitments to their programs.
When Coach Caleb Sorrells of the Lumpkin County Indians was first named as head coach, the school hosted a meet and greet for him. It was one of the first stories I covered in this position.
In his address to the parents, Sorrells promised to not only invest in the team as players and athletes, but as men who would one day be employees and fathers. I remember being caught off guard at first because I was expecting him to talk about plans for the future of the program, the summer schedule and what not. He did talk about these things, but I believe by telling the parents that he was going to invest in the players as men showed that it was going to be a priority.
Although I know more about the commitment that Sorrells has made because I’m positioned in Lumpkin County, he’s not the only one in the area who gets involved in the community and works to build up the athletes’ character.
Tim Cokely with the White County Warriors has an entire wall of his office decorated with signs of good character qualities to instill in the team. Chad Cheatham, who I mentioned earlier, referees basketball in the football off-season just because, and the community loves him for it. I’m sure that many of the other coaches in the area do similar things and I just don’t know about it yet.
These are commitments that we see played out by coaches in movies and don’t always think to look for in real life. And because I grew up in Gwinnett County, population one million, if there was this sort of commitment by coaches I didn’t always see it because there were so many people. I love living up here in North Georgia in a smaller community where an act of kindness, especially where sports are concerned, rarely goes unnoticed.
We think about football as a sport that instills a since of discipline, but why is that? Because there’s a coach that sets that standard and inspires the team to do the same. As a community we love football and we love our team, and we can thank a coach for that.