Dacula’s Bijon Sirleaf (8) stiff arms Peachtree Ridge’s Walden Davis (11) during the first half of Friday’s Class AAAAAA second-round playoff game at Dacula. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
DACULA – The Dacula Falcons know what its like to overcome adversity. For a team that was 1-9 one season ago, the Falcons are now back in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals.
On Friday night, trailing 21-14 at half, the Falcons scored two third-quarter touchdowns and had two key fourth-quarter defensive stops to defeat Peachtree Ridge 28-21. The news got even better later in the evening when Dacula won a coin toss, giving it the right to host Colquitt County in next Friday’s quarterfinals.
“This is the most resilient bunch of kids I have ever been around,” said Dacula head coach Tommy Jones. “They come to work everyday, they never quit, they have a high level of belief and optimism and they played their tails off.”
Junior Azeem Cooper, who was key for the defense with 11 tackles, echoed his coaches thoughts on this resilient bunch: “We never give up, we look for opportunities and we capitalize on them.”
Fireworks started early as senior Jordan Ellis took the first play from scrimmage 42 yards down to the Dacula 22. Two plays later, junior Chance Thrasher found senior Devon Jones from 20 yards out to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.
The Falcons responded with a seven-play drive, picking up big chunks of yards on the ground and topped the drive off with a 19-yard score by junior Bijan Sirleaf to tie things up.
Dacula received the ball again late in the first quarter at the Lions’ 47 and junior Kelan Fraise made magic happen, breaking tackles on the near sideline and reversing field before finding space and bursting up the middle for a long touchdown run and a 14-7 lead.
As the game moved into the second quarter, Peachtree Ridge looked to be stifled yet again deep in their own territory, but Thrasher found a streaking Myron Burton who pulled in a 42-yard jump ball in Falcon territory.
Thrasher then rumbled inside the 10 two plays later and later found Burton again, this time in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
After the Lions’ defense forced the Falcons to punt, Thrasher moved Peachtree Ridge down the field again with precise passing. He then found Burton with the pocket collapsing and the senior wide receiver did the rest, making a man miss and taking it 47 yards to give the Lions a 21-14 lead at the half.
As the rain began to fall, the Falcons took the opening kickoff and put together a beautiful, 14-play, 80-yard drive, converting on two third downs and taking up nearly five minutes of clock. Grove found senior Josh Lovin on a 7-yard throw to knot things up at 21.
After a three and out, Dacula again put together another masterful drive, this time going for 12 plays, 76 yards, eating up another four minutes of third quarter play and ending in a 1-yard run by Grove.
“Peachtree Ridge is so explosive and does such a great job offensively that we knew coming in that we had to control time of possession and move the football,” said Jones. “For the most part, I thought we were able to do that very successfully.”
Peachtree Ridge started the fourth quarter with the ball and looked as though it was moving into Dacula territory to try and tie the game; however, penalties killed the drive and forced a punt.
Moments later, the Peachtree Ridge defense forced a fumble and recovered at the Falcons 36 with under 10 minutes to go.
The Lions looked to strike, moving just outside the red zone, but the Dacula defense held tight as senior Nick Mollica picked off Thrasher on fourth down and returned it to midfield.
“We just had to run to the ball and make plays,” said Cooper. “This feels great, we love winning and we really battled through tonight.”
However, Peachtree Ridge got the ball back and again moved deep into Falcon territory, getting as close as the 6-yard line. Again, the Falcon defense held strong as senior Bryce Bartlett picked a fade pass off in the end zone on fourth down to keep the lead intact.
“Coach (Clint) Jenkins and the entire defensive staff did a great job preparing our guys all week,” said Jones. “Our defensive plan was excellent and we made some great adjustments in the second half.”
It looked liked the Lions would have one more chance, but a muffed punt was recovered by the Falcons, who prevailed and took the huge win.
The Falcons racked up 291 rushing yards led by a 10-carry, 116-yard day by Fraise and a seven-carry, 65-yard game by sophomore Jakob Brashear. Grove was 11-for-16 passing for 147 yards and two total touchdowns.
The Lions were led by Myron Burton at receiver as he caught nine balls for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Thrasher added a 19-for-35 night for 254 yards and three touchdowns, but was picked off twice. Meanwhile, Ellis rushed 22 times for 132 yards.
“We will enjoy this tonight,” said Jones. “We will work on winning all week at practice and then we will take a look at Friday.”
DACULA 28, PEACHTREE RIDGE 21
Peachtree Ridge 7 14 0 0
Dacula 14 0 14 0
Peachtree Ridge: Devon Jones 20 yard pass from Chance Thrasher (Evan Pantels kick) 10:49
Dacula: Bijan Sirleaf 19 yard run (Nick Mattiucci kick) 8:03
Dacula: Kelan Fraise 47 yards run (Nick Mattiucci kick) 1:04
Peachtree Ridge: Myron Burton four yard pass from Chance Thrasher (Evan Pantels kick) 11:23
Peachtree Ridge: Myron Burton 47 yard pass from Chance Thrasher (Evan Pantels kick) 1:59
Dacula: Josh Lovin seven yard pass from Aaron Grove (Nick Mattiucci kick) 7:03
Dacula: Aaron Grove one yard run (Nick Mattiucci kick) 1:13
No scoring plays
Peachtree Ridge --- Dacula
First Downs 18 --- 22
Rushes-Yards 30-162 --- 54-291
Passing Yards 254 --- 147
Comp-Att-Int 19-35-2 --- 11-16-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 --- 2-1
Penalties-Yards 14-140 --- 6-60
RUSHING – Peachtree Ridge: Ellis 22-132, Thrasher 5-33, Robinson 1-(-3) Dacula: Fraise 10-116, Brashear 7-65, Sirleaf 9-43, Evangelister 6-27, Ficklin 9-31, Lovin 2-5, Grove 11-4
PASSING – Peachtree Ridge: Thrasher 19-35-2, 254 Dacula: Grove 11-16-0, 147
RECEIVING – Peachtree Ridge: Burton 9-161, Cobb 2-36, Jones 3-32, Campbell 2-26, Robinson 2-(-1) Dacula: Evangelister 1-40, Brashear 3-38, Lovin 4-35, Sirleaf 2-24, Mollica 1-10