One or two missed opportunities put the Cedartown Bulldogs in unfamiliar territory Friday night.
Thankfully, it was a few well-timed plays that helped them exit the field with smiles instead of frowns.
After going into halftime up 29-3 and appearing to be well in control of the visiting Northwest Whitfield Bruins at halftime of the Region 7-4A game, Cedartown found itself working to disrupt a re-energized opponent in the second half before finally coming away with a 57-23 victory.
Holding onto a 36-23 lead, Cedartown had the momentum shift firmly back to its side as Harlem Diamond ran for his second 62-yard touchdown run of the night and Jai Barnes recovered a fumble deep in Northwest Whitfield territory a few plays later.
The series of events led to a 50-23 lead for the Bulldogs that would hold up for the rest of the game.
Senior Jayden Weems put a bow on things as he blocked a Bruin punt inside the 30-yard line and managed to scoop it up and run it into the end zone for a touchdown with 2:14 left to play.
Diamond, in his return from a two-week absence because of an injury, rushed for 181 yards on 11 carries and three touchdowns while Cedartown rolled up 559 yards of total offense in a game that nearly got away from the Bulldogs.
Northwest Whitfield quarterback Owen Brooker threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns and picked his team up by going 14-of-22 for 165 yards in the third quarter and leading the Bruins on back-to-back scoring drives.
Cedartown head coach Jamie Abrams said a combination of the final few plays before halftime played a lot into the flow of the game.
Northwest kicker Grant Holder made a 34-yard field goal with 12.2 seconds to go in the second quarter to put the visitors on the board. Then Khamarion Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Bruins’ 48-yard line.
The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-0 7-4A) lined up to take a knee with only 0.8 seconds left, but a quick shift had Davis take the direct snap and run to the left side all the way down to the 1-yard line where he was pushed out of bounds with no time on the clock.
“We had a chance to put them away early. I’m always harping on points before the half. You give up those three points before the half and then you kind of let them get going a little bit. We tried to trick play and didn’t get in, stopped at the 1-yard line. So just the big thing is putting people away when you have a chance. And credit to them, I mean, they fought back and came back and made some plays,” Abrams said.
It was the first possession of the second half where Northwest got some confidence as Brooker helped lead them on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that saw the Bruins convert four first downs. Brooker capped it off with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Brayden Morrison.
A personal foul penalty set up a long way for a first down on Cedartown’s next possession, but Bulldog quarterback Reece Tanner nearly turned it around with a fourth-down pass to Jordan Johnson near the goal line, but the senior bobbled the ball under pressure and dropped it.
Northwest Whitfield (3-3, 1-1) went back to work from its own 33 and converted on third-and-11 while also taking advantage of a Cedartown pass interference call to move down the field and score on a 5-yard pass from Brooker to Hudson Gray with 1:53 to go in the third quarter.
After a quick possession by Cedartown that saw the Bulldogs score on a 41-yard pass from Tanner to Demarieo Sims, Brooker would connect with Ray Morrison on a 54-yard pass to start the next drive. It would end with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brooker to Cameron Collins, making it 36-23 early in the final quarter.
However, the Bruins would never get back into Bulldog territory to try and complete the comeback.
Abrams said there wasn’t much guidance he needed to impart to his team during the rough third quarter.
“Really I didn’t have to tell them anything. I mean, they were making plays and we weren’t making some plays that we’ve been making. We didn’t pressure (Brooker) enough, probably. He kind of got to stand back there and look for some throws. We were right there to make a tackle but we just gave up a little bit, so we’ll look at that and get it fixed,” Abrams said.
After Diamond ran in for a 7-yard touchdown with 9:13 to play following the Bruins’ lost fumble, Cedartown kicker Mario Maldonado made his sixth extra point of the night. The Bulldogs’ defense then clamped down and forced Northwest Whitfield to punt on fourth-and-13. Both teams sent in second strings after that.
Cedartown will stay home for its next game as it hosts Ridgeland on Friday. It will be Cedartown’s homecoming game. Ridgeland dropped its game to Pickens on Friday, losing 45-8. Pickens was coming off of a 31-0 home loss to Cedartown the week before.