As defense captured the spotlight early on in Coosa’s physical matchup with Pepperell, it was clear both offenses were going to have to capitalize on every opportunity they could.
The Dragons were the ones who managed to grab one more than their hosts.
Pepperell recovered from a catastrophic first quarter and steered itself back on course over the final 48 minutes to get a 24-20 win over the Eagles, who had a tough fight for the second week in a row.
But while Coosa pushed the Dragons into a corner early and took a 7-0 lead in the final minutes of the first quarter, injuries and fatigue wore down the Eagles’ charge in the second half.
“Tonight was tough. We got their best shot,” Pepperell head coach Rick Hurst said. “And I feel like we were able to surpass their intensity. And that’s what I told them we had to do at the beginning of the game.”
Dragon quarterback Trevor Thomas was 9-of-19 passing for 218 yards, the majority of which came in a two-touchdown second quarter in which the senior threw for 147 yards. T.J. Watkins finished with 122 yards receiving on four catches. Tae Hammond ran for 88 yards and a score on 14 carries.
Coosa’s Jalen Hodge finished with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, the last of which came with 7:21 to play. Pepperell’s Joss Ross flew in on the extra point to block Juan Cornejo’s kick and the score remained 24-20 for the rest of the game.
“I told them that I would take an ugly loss over a pretty win any day, and that’s what this was,” Hurst said. “We did what we had to do to win. There were some good things, but there were also some things we’ve got to work on.”
Things didn’t start out positive for Pepperell (3-2, 2-0 7-AA) as the Dragons had four turnovers in the opening 12 minutes. Coosa’s Sean Brown recovered two of them, the second one coming on a muffed punt return by Connor Chandler.
With the Eagles back on offense, Coosa chipped away on a 40-yard drive that was capped off with back-to-back 11-yard runs by Gavin Hughes, who reached the end zone with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. It was the only time the Eagles got points off of a Pepperell turnover.
Thomas came out focused in the second half and racked up the passing yards. He found Camron Miles on a 34-yard touchdown to end a seven-play, 80-yard drive and then hit Chandler on a 32-yard scoring strike on the next possession. Ramiro Alanis made both extra points and Pepperell took a 14-7 lead.
Coosa (3-2, 1-1) took a hit in the second half when some defenders were forced to come out due to cramps and Coosa head coach Todd Wheeler said it hurt them.
“That’s what Pepperell exposed on us. They did a great job of capitalizing on that. When we had them in there, we had the run game shut down,” Wheeler said.
“My hats off to Pepperell and coach Hurst. They do an awesome job and, what a game. It was another battle.”
Coosa makes the trip to Armuchee next week while Pepperell is back in Lindale to host Model.