WINDER -- Mired in the throes of a 19-game losing streak, few observers gave Winder-Barrow a chance Friday night when the undefeated Heritage Patriots invaded W. Clair Harris Stadium in Winder.
Winder-Barrow head coach David Wagner and his team did not share that opinion, and the Bulldoggs served notice their season is far from over.
"We're getting better every week", said Wagner, "and tonight was proof of that".
After a defensive struggle in the first half, Heritage (7-0, 7-0 Region 8-AAAA) pulled away in the second half for a hard-fought 21-0 victory over Winder-Barrow (0-6, 0-6 Region 8-AAAA) to remain undefeated and tied with Flowery Branch atop the region standings.
The first half was a game for defensive purists. The high-octane Patriots offense, which entered averaging 31 points a game, was held to 99 total yards and 3 first downs in the half by a swarming Bulldoggs defense.
"We did some funky things in our defensive line, and the players executed almost perfectly," said Wagner.
Heritage picked up all of their first downs in the opening half on a single drive, when they marched 69 yards in 10 plays. Following a 37-yard jaunt by Quami Stanley, Patriots quarterback Ryan Sutton plunged 1-yard for a touchdown to give Heritage a 7-0 lead with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Patriots defense also stoned the Winder-Barrow offense in the first half, holding the Doggs to 27 total yards and 2 first downs.
"Their defense is amazing", said Wagner, "we battled them toe to toe, but with their size and speed it was tough to get a push."
Heritage took the second half kickoff and finally displayed their offensive prowess, embarking on a 10-play, 70-yard drive. Stanley sliced off the left side 3 yards for a TD to cap the drive and extend the Patriots lead to 14-0 midway through the 3rd quarter.
On their next possession facing 4th-and-12 on the Winder-Barrow 31 yard line, Sutton connected with Stanley streaking behind the Bulldoggs secondary for a TD pass and 21-0 Patriots lead with 2:27 remaining in the quarter.
However, the Doggs refused to roll over. On the ensuing possession Winder-Barrow marched 78 yards in 13 plays, highlighted by a 45-yard pass from Christian Hodge to Dante Jones. On 4th-and-1 on the Patriots 2-yard line, the drive ended when Hodge was stopped inches short of a first down.
"We may be struggling in the win-loss column, but we're not struggling with our character," said Wagner. "I'm proud of our effort. We're a better team than we were at the beginning of the season, and we showed that tonight against what may be the best overall team in the region".
Stanley led the Patriots with 64 yards on 13 carries and a TD both rushing and receiving. Winder-Barrow's Jamonte Riden, who entered the game averaging 100 yards rushing a game, was held to 35 yards on 11 carries.-- David Brock