CONYERS - For the first 46 1/2 minutes of Friday's game, no one could score. Thanks to a spark from its special teams, Rockdale figured out two ways to dent the scoreboard and in the process pick up a huge Region 8-AAAA win.
Isaiah Gresham found Chris Smith for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:35 left - after a blocked punt by Byron Lawrence - to lead Rockdale to a 14-0 win over Cedar Shoals.
Cedar Shoals (3-4) had punting problems all game, and it finally cost the Jaguars late in the game. Following Lawrence's block and a recovery by Xavier Mollette, it took the Bulldogs three plays to score the first points of the game as Gresham made a pretty fade pass to his favorite target to make it 7-0.
"He's been telling me all night, 'I'm going to come up big for us," Gresham said of Smith. "He always does that in practice and we turned it over into the game."
"Isaiah is getting more confident and the more he's able to do the more we're letting him do it," said Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge, whose team beat Clarke Central last week in overtime.
Rockdale (3-3) added to its lead half a minute later when Cartavious Sanders fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Mollette recovered that fumble as well. With one minute remaining, Tavaris Williams scored from 14 yards to put the game out of reach.
Rockdale drove to the Cedar Shoals 8-yard line on the game's opening drive and had a first-and-goal, but the drive stalled. Brandon Story's 27-yard field goal had plenty of leg but was wide left, keeping the game scoreless.
That was about as exciting as it got in the first half.
Despite being blessed with excellent field position on two occasions thanks to poor Cedar Shoals punting, the Bulldogs couldn't capitalize. After a five-yard punt gave Rockdale the ball at the Jaguars' 25-yard line, three false start penalties and Isaiah Gresham's 10-yard run came up a yard short and forced a turnover on downs. Later, a Cedar Shoals punt went only 12 yards, yet Rockdale went three-and-out.
A bizarre drive ended the scoreless half. After Cedar Shoals stalled at its own 30, a block in the back on a punt forced the Jaguars to kick it a second time from its 15-yard line. Rockdale sent seven on the ensuing punt, couldn't get it blocked and was hit with a roughing the kicker penalty.
Rockdale looked, at the very least, to be in field goal range midway through the third quarter before Hagen Huggs picked off Gresham's pass deep in Jaguars' territory. Cedar Shoals put together a solid drive early in the fourth quarter, but the 12-play drive ended when Gatlin threw up a prayer and was intercepted by Neville Hewitt.
Rockdale's defense allowed 169 total yards and didn't allow Cedar to cross midfield until eight minutes remained in the third quarter.
"We've been playing good defense all year," said Etheridge. "Defensively we had a good game plan going in, we've been working hard all week (and) the kids played well. It was just a great effort by our kids, we're just fortunate enough to come out with a win."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.