CONYERS - After seven seasons, Rockdale finally has the Conyers Cup back in its grasp.
All it took was for the Bulldogs to survive the highest-scoring game ever in Rockdale County's oldest football rivalry.
Senior Javon Lucas scored four touchdowns, including two on punt returns, as Rockdale (3-0) held on for a 40-38 victory over Heritage (1-2) Friday night at Reid Memorial Stadium.
"I've been wanting to see all along how we would do with adversity, when things really got tough. We showed that we could handle that tonight," Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge said. "We've been trying to down play it all week, because there's more things that we want to do. The Conyers Cup is a step, but it's a great thing to have here, because we haven't had it in a long time since 2001 - so it's been a few years.
"We're 3-0 and we've got an open date, so we can really rest and get ready for the next round. We're going to take them one at a time, but we're in a good place right now, that's for sure."
In reality, the game came down to a single snap - one that got away from Heritage.
With less than a minute to play, the Patriots were in field goal position, facing a second-and-7 at the Rockdale 20.
But an errant shotgun snap got past Heritage quarterback Garry Peters, who scrambled to recover the ball for a 12-yard loss back at the 32. After an incompletion on third down, Heritage coach Chad Frazier faced a tough decision.
He opted for a 48-yard field goal attempt by Grant Kelly, whose kick was short of the mark and sent the Rockdale team and fans into a wild celebration.
"Exactly, we were playing to set up a short field goal at the end," Frazier said. "(On the fumbled snap), that wasn't a pass play, we were running it. It was going to a zone play, so whatever they gave us it would be safe. We probably should have taken a knee. That was my fault."
The back-and-forth game featured big-play fireworks from the start.
After a botched onside kick on the opening kickoff, Lucas broke loose for a 49-yard touchdown run just 11 seconds into the contest.
The Bulldogs' defense came up with the next big play when Adrianne Brown intercepted a Peters pass that deflected off the hand of his receiver.
Four plays later, Rockdale quarterback Isaiah Gresham connected with Ryan Culbreath for a 41-yard touchdown strike and a 14-0 lead at 9:25.
But then, Heritage came to life.
First, Peters and Martell Jones hooked up on a 75-yard scoring play just 38 seconds after Culbreath's touchdown.
The Patriot defense struck for the next two scores. Defensive end Justin Jones trapped Lucas in the end zone for a safety at 5:11.
Heritage linebacker Corey Alford scored the final touchdown of the first quarter, scooping a Gresham fumble on a sack and returning 7 yards for the score with 57 seconds remaining to give the Patriots a 15-14 advantage.
But the Bulldogs came roaring back.
David Calloway's 68-yard run early in the second quarter setup Lucas' 5-yard touchdown at 10:19 to put Rockdale back in front 21-15. It would be the Bulldogs' last offensive touchdown of the game.
However, it didn't matter because Lucas provided the scoring punch on special teams. He extended the Bulldogs' lead to 27-15 with a 46-yard punt return for a TD at 7:44.
Kelly's 39-yard field goal on the last play of the first half helped Heritage cut its halftime deficit to 27-18.
The third quarter belonged to the Patriots and Peters.
On the opening possession of the half, Peters hooked up with JR Rhone for an 18-yard touchdown pass at 10:42.
Two possessions later, Peters scored on a 5-yard run with 2:13 left in the quarter to put the Patriots back in front 31-27.
But back came the Bulldogs again.
Lucas scored his fourth touchdown on a scintillating 70-yard punt return just 53 seconds into the fourth quarter. On the play, he fielded a bouncing punt and appeared to be trapped before breaking free and cruising down the near sideline.
With Rockdale up 34-31, the Bulldog defense supplied the final score. Bryan Lawrence intercepted a screen pass and dashed 42 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning score.
But Peters, who rushed for 103 yards and passed for 312, was not finished for Heritage. He scored on a 20-yard touchdown run with 6:01 remaining to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.