The Tigers found a way to make sure that didn’t happen.
Down 14-10 at halftime following a Trion-heavy second quarter, No. 10 Darlington found a renewed energy in the second half and pushed its way to a 17-14 win in the Region 6-A/A game. The victory is the second three-point win in a row for the Tigers, who are No. 4 in the GHSA Class A Private Power Ratings.
Atha said his team was well aware of the type of football that Trion and head coach Justin Brown play, being region opponents for the majority of the last six years.
“We talked about it all week. We knew this was going to be the most physical game of the year thus far. Coach Brown is a good friend of mine, and we have the utmost respect for what they do and how their kids play. It’s always a physical affair, and obviously that proved true again tonight,” Atha said.
“The defense made great adjustments in the second half and showed a lot of tenacity. We made plays on offense when we had to and found a way to get the ball in the end zone. Just couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Darlington won the battle for time of possession and stayed in control of the clock during pivotal moments in the second half, keeping the Bulldogs’ offense off the field. Rhett McDurmon and Tate Ratledge had key tackles in the final two quarters that forced Trion into tough situations, including missing a 37-yard field goal and punting twice.
The Tigers (6-1, 3-1 6-A/A) took the lead for good on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took up 4:50 in the third quarter, leaving 46.7 seconds to go in the period. Kolin Rogers, who finished with 45 yards on 15 carries, scored from 3 yards out and Alex Liddle added the extra point to make it 17-14.
Trion was led by a powerful running game and the performance of all-around athlete Hagen Willingham, who finished with 152 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The Bulldogs (5-3, 2-3) scored on back-to-back drives in the second quarter to go up 14-3, each one set up by a long run by Willingham.
The senior had a 48-yard run on the first play of a drive that began after Trion recovered a fumble forced by the Bulldogs’ Kodiak Crabbe and Bryce Wallin scored from a yard out to cap it.
After a Tiger three-and-out, Trion got back on offense with Willingham taking control with a 45-yard run before finding space for a 17-yard touchdown run with 5:02 to play.
Darlington got back some momentum before the break, however, as quarterback Frank Manning scrambled on third-and-11 before letting a high pass go downfield toward Gill Mauer, who was in stride as he caught the ball and took it in for a 61-yard score.
The Tigers then held Trion to a three-and-out of its own to keep the score 14-10.
Darlington is on the road next week as it travels to Bowdon, while Trion is off.