In their first ever battle with the Cairo Syrupmakers, the Cedartown Bulldogs were the ones who got to taste sweet victory.

The Cedartown defense came out firing on all cylinders and once again punished an opposing backfield while the Bulldogs’ balanced running attack prevailed in a 48-14 win on Doc Ayers Field in the second round of the GHSA state playoffs.

The victory continues Cedartown’s run of dominating wins this season and secures the Bulldogs a spot in the Elite Eight for the second season in a row, the first time that has happened since 2002.

Cedartown (10-1) has won seven games in a row and outscored opponents 330-64 during that stretch.

“When I first got here, I always told the players if you’re going to be recognized as a premier team in your classification you’ve got to be in the third round consistently, and to be able to do that is just a credit to these kids,” Cedartown head coach Jamie Abrams said. “They came out ready to go tonight. And I think Cairo is a dang good football team.”

The Bulldogs will hit the road for the next round as they face Perry in the quarterfinals. The two region champions will meet Friday, Nov. 26, in Perry after the Panthers topped Flowery Branch 42-7 in the Sweet 16.

With both teams the No. 1 seed from their region, the GHSA universal coin toss determined the lower team on the bracket would host in the quarterfinals.

“It doesn’t matter where you play, you’ve got to go play them. We’ve been in road games before. Our guys just keep coming and keep battling. That’s all I can ask them to do,” Abrams said.

The Junkyard Dawgs were back at it again Friday night, allowing Cairo to earn just one first down in the first half and holding the Syrupmakers to just 26 net yards rushing.

“They played very, very well and got after them. We gave up a couple of little things late, but I think they played outstanding for the most part. We don’t ever want to give up those big plays, but man, I think they played pretty dang well,” Abrams said.

The Region 1-4A runner-up found success on two big pass plays in the third quarter, but it would be too little too late.

Patrick Gardner ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs, who held a 21-0 lead at halftime and led 35-0 in the third quarter before Cairo was able to score. Gardner bulldozed his way through the Cairo defensive line on more than a few occasions and scored both of his touchdowns from 4 yards out.

Harlem Diamond, Cedartown’s leading rusher, had 13 carries for 114 yards, most of which came on a 51-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He also had two catches from quarterback Reece Tanner — an 18-yarder on third-and-10 on the opening drive and a 23-yard touchdown on third-and-14 in the third quarter.

Georgia commit CJ Washington had 91 yards on 15 touches and scored a pair of touchdowns as well.

The first drive of the game proved challenging for Cedartown as it started the game with a false start penalty that would set the tone for the opening possession.

Catches by Jordan Johnson and Diamond would convert two third-and-longs during the drive, while three Bulldog penalties kept moving the home team back after first downs. Cedartown caught a break when a would-be interception was negated by a defensive pass interference call.

In the end, the 14-play, 71-yard drive ended with Gardner’s first touchdown of the night and took 7:14 off the clock.

“We had those penalties and ... we can’t play behind the sticks. And we did. We made some mistakes, but we overcame them. That’s a good thing,” Abrams said.

“That was big just to start the game off and overcome that because you want to score on that first drive.”

Cairo (7-4) would go three-and-out on three of its first four drives and finish the first half with only 8 yards of offense, while Cedartown took possession of the momentum its defense provided.

It wouldn’t be until midway through the third quarter when the Syrupmakers would taste some positive offensive production thanks to quarterback Braylon Robinson.

Cairo got down to the Cedartown 7-yard line on its second drive after halftime but was turned away when Xavier Hargrove stepped in front of a Robinson pass to the end zone and intercepted the ball.

After a Bulldogs touchdown made it 35-0, Cairo got on the board on the next play from scrimmage as Robinson hit Jalon Spence on a 65-yard touchdown pass. It would be the biggest offensive play of the night for either team.

Eri Velasquez continued to handle placekicking duties for the injured Mario Maldonado. He went 6-of-6 on extra point attempts.

The final Cedartown touchdown came with 5:19 left to play as Eli Barrow was called on to carry the ball 7 yards into the end zone. The point-after attempt failed after a fumbled snap on the kick.

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