Staff Photo: John Bohn Grayson's Kalen Hawkins (1) drives the ball past Dacula's Brandon Goodson (11) during the second period of Friday's game played at Dacula.
DACULA -- Having played in 11 different games decided by seven points or fewer this season, Dacula's boys were happy to finally win one by a relatively comfortable margin.
But even with a 54-43 win over Region 8-AAAAAA foe Grayson at home on Friday, the Falcons (11-5 overall, 5-4 in region) still had to earn it.
That's because the visiting Rams (8-8, 3-5) were their usual scrappy selves most of the night before Dacula finally pulled away behind Jaylen Williams, who scored half of his team-high 16 points -- part of a double-double with his game-high 16 rebounds -- in the fourth quarter.
"First thing first, (Grayson coach) Geoffrey Pierce is doing a hell of a job over there," Dacula coach Russ Triaga said. "Those kids are playing hard start to finish. That's why were weren't able to get away from them (until late). ... A big part of the game for us was Jaylen Williams with 16 points and 16 rebounds. He just does so many things for us. ... We don't have that cushion without his (production).
"Winning games in this region are really hard to do, so you take them any way you can get them. There's not a lot of blowouts. ... Confidence-wise, we got a lot of contributions."
Early on, it looked like Dacula might cruise after the Falcons jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter by controlling the boards and getting out in transition, resulting in good looks at the basket.
Williams scored five points and Brandon Goodson added three more and a pair of assists to help the Falcons build as much as a 14-3 lead after Goodson's 3-pointer with 2:38 left in the opening frame.
But Grayson slowly began to chip away at the lead by forcing the bulk of Dacula's eight first-half turnovers and turning them into points.
A rim-rocking dunk by football standout Robert Nkemdiche ignited a run of seven straight points that pulled the Rams as close at 14-10 before Cameron Lewis answered with a jump hook in the lane with 40 seconds left that pushed the Falcons' lead back to 16-10 by the end of the first half.
And Dacula kept momentum going early in a low-scoring second quarter that saw the two teams combine for just 10 points.
The Falcons managed six of them over a 2:52 span, including two buckets in the paint from Ifeanyi Okoye, to help Dacula take a 22-14 lead into intermission.
Still, Grayson refused to go away, with a pair of 3-pointers from Pierre Mason, helping cut the lead down to as little as 24-20 early in the third quarter.
But a key turning point came late in that frame, when Goodson -- who finished with 12 points and a game-high eight assists on the evening -- pulled up and hit a 3-pointer from NBA range as the buzzer sounded on the period.
Instead of just a six-point lead, the shot sent the Falcons into the fourth quarter with a considerably more comfortable advantage at 35-26.
"The kid has no fear," Triaga said of Goodson. "I know he will take that shot. ... A lot of times we'll do that at the end of a quarter. We'll just spread out and we know he's going to take the shot. It's just a matter of him getting in the spot to do it."
And after an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter, keyed by four free throws from Williams and two more from Goodson, it looked like Dacula would finally be able to coast home with its biggest lead of the game at 47-32 with 4:21 remaining.
But Marquise Lanier and Grayson still wouldn't quit.
The junior helped create two Dacula turnovers and scored six of his game-high 18 points over a 39-second span to pull Grayson to within 47-38 with 2:48 left.
Lanier came up with another steal to give his team the ball back, but then had to leave the game temporarily after turning an ankle on the next possession.
And when play restarted the Rams couldn't cash in and put more pressure on the Falcons thanks to an empty possession, and Goodson was fouled and hit two free throws to push the lead back to double digits for good at 49-38 with 2:14 left.
It was just one too many holes for Pierce's team to climb out of.
"The last couple of games we've done that," Pierce said. "Against a good team with veteran guards, you can't dig yourself a hole like that because they're going to take care of the ball at the end and make free throws."
In addition to the big night from Williams and Goodson, Zentavious Cobb added seven points and eight rebounds.
Lanier had six rebounds to go along with his point total, while Nkemdiche had four points and pulled down a team-high nine boards.