Photo: Karl L. Moore Dacula's Zentavias Cobb runs the ball up field during the Falcons' win over Newnan last week.
Dacula has felt the pressure of an 0-2 start to the season.
The Falcons have won overtime games, seen big leads slip away, they've even won in the final minutes of ball games.
Somehow, someway, Dacula still manages to find a way to win.
"We're a senior-laden team, I think that drives it. When it ends for them, it ends forever in high school," first-year Dacula head coach Jared Zito said. "We feel Dacula is always the underdog and we prove people wrong time and time again. From talking to our principal and people in the community, Dacula has always had heart and a never-say-die attitude."
Dacula will take that approach into tonight's Class AAAAA quarterfinal game against Walton. The Falcons (9-3) are once again the underdog against a Raiders (12-0) squad that is undefeated and has some of the state's top players. The winner plays the winner of the Lassiter-M.L. King game in next week's semifinals.
Dacula is in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2005. The Falcons weren't expected to win that game when they traveled to Camden County and beat the No. 1 ranked Wildcats to reach the semifinals.
But Dacula is accustomed to overcoming obstacles.
The Falcons started the year with two non-region losses. Since then they have won nine of 10 games, including six in a row. During that streak, the Falcons have had to use an overtime victory, a last-minute scoring drive and hold off two fourth-quarter comebacks.
"Their kids are playing extremely hard," Walton head coach Rocky Hidalgo said. "Right now, they are playing with a lot of confidence. They are playing with a will to win."
Dacula used a last-minute fourth quarter rally to beat Norcross in the first round. The Falcons let a 17-0 halftime lead nearly slip away against Newnan in the second round. The Cougars rallied to make it a 24-21 game in the third quarter. Marcus Cox rushed for 74 yards, including the game-clinching score in the Falcons' 32-21 victory.
"As much as I'm proud of these kids for winning close games, we still haven't figured out how to put someone away," Zito said. "We've had to win some close ones."
Rocky Capobianco rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Newnan. The senior has 1,384 yards, which ranks No. 6 all-time in Dacula history.
"He's a very, very good high school player," Hidalgo said. "He's the kind of kid that high school football is all about. He's a really good high school football player."
Walton features arguably the state's best running back in Tyren Jones, a transfer from Lassiter, who leads Class AAAAA in rushing yards and touchdowns.
"He's an exceptional player," Zito said. "He's got to be one of the top backs we've seen all year. Their offense goes as he goes."
Jones, who has ACC and SEC offers, has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 34 touchdowns, including 10 in the playoffs.
"I don't know if you can stop a kid like him, but you have to try and limit his big plays," Zito said.
Dacula's defense is allowing less than 100 yards rushing a game, but stopping Jones will be the biggest challenge this season.
"He's a very talented player," Hidalgo said. "We feel like we have a good offensive line. Tyren is an exceptional talent and has a lot of ability behind our line."
Jones is one of a handful of talented players on Walton's team. Defensive back Zach Blaylock, the son of former Atlanta Hawks player Mookie Blaylock, has returned five of eight interceptions for touchdowns, three for longer than 80 yards. Blaylock and his brother Daron have committed to Kentucky.
"They do have some big-name kids," Zito said. "They good news is our schedule. It's hard to beat Region 8 and then crossing over and playing Region 7. We've seen some good players and teams this year."