ROCKMART — A fourth quarter rally gave Rockmart the final push of a Region 7-AA battle Friday night to give the Jackets a 34-17 win over the Pepperell Dragons to keep their undefeated streak alive.
With the score tied 10-10 after three quarters, the top-ranked Yellow Jackets outscored Pepperell 24-7 in the final 12 minutes to prove the difference. Rockmart head coach Biff Parson said the credit goes to a battle-tested group of seniors who pushed the team until the end.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Pepperell. We knew they were going to give us all they got,” Parson said. “They had us on our toes a bit, but again these guys being resilient they came through.”
Pepperell’s defense stood strong for most of the game against a Rockmart team that had outscored opponents 289-46 coming into the game.
“Hats off to them, they have a good football team,” Dragons head coach Rick Hurst said. “But we’ve got one too. The best thing I’d like to do is play them again.”
The win gives Rockmart (7-0, 4-0 7-AA) a solid path to winning its third straight region title, while Pepperell still has strong playoff hopes and will work to win out the rest of the season to finish as high as they can.
After both teams went into halftime with a field goal apiece, Pepperell finally took a 10-3 lead thanks to a 44-yard scoring drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass between quarterback Gage Moses and Ryan Hurst. But Rockmart responded in kind with their own attack down the field to tie the game on a 2-yard touchdown run by Mehki Floyd.
Momentum turned Rockmart’s way with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions that resulted in touchdowns for the Jackets, including a pass play between quarterback Javin Whatley and Juke Boozer for 43 yards and a 9-yard run by Whatley for his second score of the night.
Rockmart added a field goal onto the board between the touchdowns, and Whatley scored on a 2-yard run to cap his night with less than a minute left.
Pepperell (5-2, 3-1) was able to add a late touchdown of its own on an 86-yard kickoff return by Payton Rhoades to try to get the Dragons back in the game down 21-17, but the Jackets were able to eat up the clock on their final scoring drive.
The Dragons ended the night with 332 yards of offense, with Moses going 7 for 18 and 85 yards on the night with a touchdown and two interceptions. Rockmart’s offense wrapped up the night with 321 yards overall, with Whatley going 7-of-10 passing for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Pepperell will travel to Dade County next Friday, while Rockmart hosts Coosa.
Rockmart and Pepperell played even through the first half, each team able to march downfield on one another to put up a field goal and keep the game tied as each team headed into the locker room.
The Jackets went 76 yards and ate up more than nine minutes of clock to be held to a short kick through the uprights with just more than three minutes left in the first quarter. The only dramatics for the home crowd came when Rockmart caught Pepperell off guard on a fake punt play that allowed Jackets quarterback Javin Whatley to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
The Dragons had similar luck in the red zone against Rockmart’s defense. After several screen passes off the arm of Pepperell quarterback Gage Moses got the Dragons down to the Rockmart 3-yard line, a defensive stand forced a field goal to tie the game.
Both teams traded possessions through the rest of the half without any production. Late in the second quarter, Whatley threw an interception to give Pepperell another chance on offense. With less than 30 seconds on the clock, they decided to take a knee and try to make something happen to open the second half.