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FOOTBALL: Pepperell opens playoffs in dominating fashion at Dragon Stadium

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All season, Pepperell football coach Rick Hurst reminded his team the work that goes into being a great team. While the Dragons were coming off a region championship in 2016, he knew it took more than expectations for the team to get back to that level.

On the first night of the postseason, the Dragons found that elite level.

Pepperell allowed two first downs all game and controlled Banks County with a commanding run game, winning 57-0 in the first round of the state playoffs on Friday night in Lindale. It was the Dragons’ fourth shutout and largest win of the season.

“It took awhile to get a team that could have a performance like this,” Hurst said. “We always talk about finishing and pressing on the gas, and the team certainly was able to do it tonight.”

Pepperell quarterback Trevor Thomas hardly played in the second half but still recorded 233 total yards and three touchdowns. Tae Hammond recorded 173 total yards and three touchdowns, and Chris Barner tallied 109 rushing yards and two scores.

The Dragons finished with an astronomical 409 rushing yards, as the offensive line kept lanes open almost all night.

Meanwhile, Thomas ran the read option to perfection as Banks defenders routinely lost track of the runner.

Thomas found Hammond for a 46-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game, and Pepperell kept rolling from there. Hammond scored on an eight-yard touchdown run the following drive, and Thomas added a pair of touchdown runs in the second quarter.

Whenever Banks committed to the run, Thomas would find Connor Chandler or T.J. Watkins through the air. The visiting Leopards were almost hopeless in their endeavors.

“When you play defense against us, you really can’t focus in on one dude,” Thomas said. “Whether it’s me, Tae, or Connor or anyone, it’s a test going against us. And it makes it so much easier for me when distributing the ball.”

Banks County attempted to establish a run game on offense, but that never occurred. Pepperell forced three punts before Banks could even manage its lone first down of the half.

Pepperell’s defensive dominance started on the line, where it never allowed the Leopards to get a good push. Banks County’s longest run of the game went for eight yards, and nearly all attempts to pass ended badly.

“The line just refused to let the line of scrimmage get moved back all night,” Hurst said. “And any time you can do that, linebackers are going to be able to run, and you’re going to make stops and keep those guys in check.”

Already leading 29-0 at halftime, Hammond broke a 32-yard touchdown run early play of the third quarter. The Dragons brought in the backups from there, and they scored three more touchdowns to add to the lead, including a pair of scores from Barner.

Early in the game, the Dragons suffered a setback when fullback Camron Miles tore his ACL. He is out for the season.

Pepperell hits the road next week when it takes on Region 5-AA champion Heard County in Franklin. To pull the upset, the Dragons know they need to bring the exact kind of effort they brought to open the postseason.

“It’s going to take a monumental effort,” Hurst said. “But as I told the team, I don’t care how many D-1 recruits that team has, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as we play with chemistry and execution, we’ll have a chance.”