Pepperell Football

Pepperell’s Payton Rhoades (7) is joined by teammate Levi Lane as he runs into the end zone for a touchdown following a fumble recovery Friday night.

Pepperell’s high-powered offense and stout defense were both on display as the Dragons took down the Class AA defending state champions to move on to the second round of the Class AA state playoffs.

Playing its opening-round game at Dragon Stadium, Pepperell defeated Heard County 27-7 on Friday night to start the Dragons’ postseason.

“I’m proud of this senior class,” Pepperell head coach Rick Hurst said. “It’s just another notch in this bunch’s belt. When you knock off the defending state champion, and we had guys that were not in and didn’t get to play tonight, but we had some guys step up in those positions and play really well tonight.”

A near-perfect performance from Gage Moses kept the Dragons’ offense on top as he went 8-of-10 for 103 yards passing and a touchdown. Moses and fellow quarterback Shannen White were able to keep the Heard County defense on its toes all night.

“Overall I think we played extremely well,” Hurst said. “I think Gage Moses played probably the best game he’s played all year. He was throwing them on the money. I can’t say enough about Shannen White coming in there. We put in a little wrinkle having them both in there and we’re going to continue to do that. It makes it difficult on defenses when both of those guys are in there.”

Known for hauling in touchdown passes, senior receiver Payton Rhoades didn’t score on offense but stood out on defense, returning a fumble 30 yards to give Pepperell a 27-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

Later on the Braves’ final drive of the game, Rhoades knocked the ball out of quarterback Leroy Marsh’s hand as he was getting ready to throw and recovered the fumble to seal the win for the Dragons. Rhoades finished with five catches for 63 yards receiving.

“He was all over the place tonight,” Hurst said. “He had some great catches and he played very well on defense. He’s been a little bit banged up and a little sore, but he didn’t play like it tonight. He came out and played really well on both sides of the ball.”

Senior receiver Dalton Wright had three catches for 40 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown in the third quarter that put the Dragons up 20-7. Wright was in a position to play a bigger role in the game with the absence of senior Ryan Hurst, who was injured during last week’s win at Chattooga.

Logan Wright took over kicking duties for Hurst, hitting all but one of his extra-point attempts.

On the ground for the Dragons, DJ Rogers and Tra Robinson both scored touchdowns in the first half to give Pepperell (9-2) a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Alex Boyd led Heard County (4-7) with 157 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Pepperell will hit the road for the next round of the playoffs when the Dragons make the five-hour trip to face Region 1-AA champion Thomasville, which defeated Dodge County 31-26 on Friday night.

“We’re doing what we’ve got to do,” Hurst said. “As long as we can keep the momentum going and limit the mistakes. South Georgia’s a different ballgame. It’s going to be a hostile environment. It’s a place where people have a hard time going in and winning.”

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