Showing its bite
Key defensive stop seals fifth straight win for Rockdale

CONYERS - In a game sprinkled with big offensive plays, it was a play by the Rockdale defense that turned out to be the most lasting image.

Darius Lucas intercepted an ill-advised pass from Loganville quarterback A.J. Schmidt with less than two minutes to play, sealing a 31-28 victory, Rockdale's fifth straight. Loganville's drive started on its own 8-yard line and the Red Devils were in business following Schmidt's 18-yard scramble on fourth-and-nine that pushed the ball to Rockdale's 45-yard line. But the Bulldogs' secondary clamped down, forcing a one-yard completion, an incompletion and a five-yard run by Schmidt before the interception.

"We played with some fire; the kids played hard," said Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge, whose team moved to 6-3 and all but locked up one of Region 8-AAAA's playoff spots.

Turnovers hurt Loganville in the first half as well. After a first quarter punt pinned the Red Devils at their 5-yard line, Storm Johnson, a prized recruit at tailback, fumbled and Lucas recovered. Rashawn Binns powered in from four yards on the ensuing play to put Rockdale up 7-0.

It didn't take Johnson long to make up for the early mistake. Loganville marched 80 yards in 11 plays and Johnson capped the drive with a three-yard plunge that tied the game at 7-7. The host Bulldogs answered with some fireworks as Isaiah Gresham scrambled and found a wide open Brandon Harris for a 61-yard touchdown reception that gave Rockdale the lead back at 14-7.

Loganville again coughed up the football deep in its own territory late in the first quarter and Rockdale capitalized. Schmidt and Johnson had trouble on a handoff and the ball fell to ground. Lineman Jerry Mathis scooped up the fumble and returned it to the seven. Four plays later on fourth-and-goal from the one, Gresham scored to give the Bulldogs a 21-7 cushion.

"I thought (the turnovers were) big; momentum swings," Etheridge said.

The lightning-quick Johnson wasn't finished. The senior fielded the ensuing kickoff on a bounce and exploded down the sideline for a 92-yard touchdown return, cutting Rockdale's lead to 21-13.

Trailing 24-13 in the third quarter, Loganville took advantage of a Rockdale turnover to pull to within a field goal. A bad snap on a punt forced punter Lucas to improvise, and his fumble allowed the Red Devils to take possession at the 35-yard line. After a seven-play drive, which included Johnson's six-yard run on fourth-and-1, Schmidt's three-yard sneak for a touchdown and toss to Zach Hyers on the two-point conversion made it a 24-21 game.

Binns' 26-yard touchdown run made it a 31-21 and Johnson scored again from a yard out to slice the margin to 31-28.

"We knew we were going to have to score a bunch of points," Etheridge said. "This game here, it was a great effort by our kids (and) coaching staff. I feel like as long as we got out top 22 (players), we're going to match up well with everyone. Great win for our program, getting 'the Rock' back where it's supposed to be."