The Cedartown Bulldogs went into halftime of their Region 7-4A opener against Pickens knowing they had had to do better when they came back.
So they created their own opportunities and took matters into their own hands.
Cedartown capitalized on five Pickens turnovers in the second half of Friday’s Homecoming game at Doc Ayers Field and firmly grappled control of the game away from the visiting Dragons on the way to a 52-21 win.
The Bulldogs ran for 457 yards, including a period at the start of the fourth quarter where they covered 155 yards on just five plays. Jeremiah Johnson had two interceptions, the first of which he ran back 43 yards for a touchdown that put Cedartown up 19-14 less than three minutes into the third quarter.
The pick-six would ultimately be the turning point for the Bulldogs as they scored following turnovers on the Dragons’ next two possessions to take a 31-14 lead and never look back.
Cedartown (3-2, 1-0 7-4A) trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter and was down 14-13 at halftime, having been plagued by penalties while also not matching Pickens’ sure start.
“We didn’t do the things we needed to do. We had way too many penalties. We’ve got to clean that up again. And then a lot of it is us just doing the little things. We understand where to go and what to do, but it’s the little things now,” Cedartown head coach Jamie Abrams said.
The Bulldogs had nine of their 12 penalties in the first half for a total of 70 yards, with calls on three successive plays on their second drive leading them to punt on fourth-and-29.
After an ineligible receiver penalty negated a 25-yard touchdown pass from Reece Tanner to CJ Washington late in the second quarter, Tanner then hit Jayden Johnson for a 15-yard pass on third-and-16 before Xavier Hargrove picked up 2 yards for a first down. Jayden Johnson caught a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
Pickens (2-4, 0-1) had opened the scoring late in the first quarter on a flea-flicker play that covered 56 yards and put the visitors up 7-0. A low kick was then recovered by the Dragons and turned into a touchdown early in the second quarter.
“We didn’t change a whole bunch. It was just a matter of executing,” Abrams said of his team’s resurgence in the second half. “They came out and hit us with a trick play and then stole a possession on the kickoff. So you know, when those things happen you’re gonna have to fight and claw and scrape, and that’s what we had to do. We did it. And I’m proud of that. I’m just not really proud of the overall performance.”
Cedartown lost a fumble to end the first drive of the second half, but it took just one play for the tide to turn back in the Bulldogs’ favor as Jeremiah Johnson picked off Pickens quarterback Sam Streicher and scored.
Three plays into the ensuing possession by the Dragons saw Cedartown’s Donald Knight intercept the freshman signal caller to give the Bulldogs possession on their own 38 where they kicked off a 10-play drive during which they converted on fourth down twice before scoring on a 15-yard run by CJ Washington.
Pickens went back on offense after the kickoff but it didn’t last long as Jayden Johnson managed to strip the ball out of the running back’s grasp and took the ball down to the Dragons’ 5-yard line.
Hargrove punched it in on the next play and Cedartown had shot out to a 31-14 lead with 3:24 to go in the third quarter.
Harlem Diamond was the leading rusher for the Bulldogs with 105 yards on eight carries, the majority of which came on an 84-yard touchdown run on a reverse on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Jayden Johnson and nine carries for 83 yards along with three receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown, while Washington finished with eight touches for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
Khamarion Davis scored on a 35 yard run with 8:24 to go in the fourth quarter after Cedartown recovered a second fumble by Pickens. The Dragons managed to put together one last scoring drive to make it 52-21 with 4:32 remaining.
Pickens recovered the ensuing kickoff after it went through the arms of the Cedartown returner, but Edgar Martinez recovered a botched Pickens snap on the very next play to give the Bulldogs possession.
Taidji Neal picked up 22 yards on the first play of the drive and Cedartown went on to wind down the running clock to end the game.
The Bulldogs will be on the road this coming Friday as they travel to Northwest Whitfield.