FRANKLIN — Pepperell football coach Rick Hurst stood around his players late Friday night almost in tears. His team made big plays all night, staying with a region champion despite playing on the road and without some of its best players. But in the end, it came a few big plays short against one of the top players in Georgia.
The Dragons battled to slow down Heard County quarterback Emory Jones but the host Braves rolled to a 41-28 victory in Franklin. The loss ends Pepperell’s season and its hopes of reaching the quarterfinals for the second straight season.
“Heard had a good game plan and executed it, but I think we did a great job of making some plays,” Hurst said. “I thought we could put some points on the board, and we did that. Hats off to this whole football staff for what we’ve accomplished.”
Senior quarterback Trevor Thomas finished with 233 total yards and two rushing touchdowns, while senior running back Tae Hammond tallied 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns despite getting injured in the third quarter.
Senior wideout Connor Chandler led all receivers with five catches for 112 yards.
The Dragons (8-4) suffered most when trying to stop Jones, who finished with 340 total yards and six touchdowns, including four on the ground. The Ohio State commit burned Pepperell on draws and deep throws throughout the night, and was a constant threat on any part of the field.
Holding a seven-point lead in the third quarter, Jones broke off a 48-yard touchdown run. After Thomas threw an interception, Jones scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to push Heard’s lead to 41-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Without Hammond in the backfield, Pepperell still marched down the field and scored on a 14-yard touchdown run by Thomas. The Dragons got the ball one more time with two minutes left but turned the ball over on downs after a four-and-out.
“I’m just proud of this team. They stood up to the challenge we put forth before the game,” Hurst said. “When Tae went out we never batted an eye. We put two more touchdowns on the board.”
Both offenses came out hot to begin the game, with the first five drives resulting in touchdowns.
Jones and Hammond both tallied two touchdowns in the first four drives, but a missed extra point from Pepperell gave Heard a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. Jones added to that on the next drive, finding Jaden Moreland for a 64-yard touchdown pass.
The Braves (11-1) got their break late in the half after they blocked a 32-yard Pepperell field goal. Heard gambled on a fourth-and-short from its own 20, and Jones broke off a 42-yard run to get into Pepperell territory.
Five plays later, Jones dove in for a 1-yard score to put his team up 28-13. He had 252 total yards in the first half.