Conyers If the players and coaches on the Druid Hills football team have any lingering nightmares about Friday’s game against Rockdale, Targee Steele figures to play a prominent role.
Steele threw the game-winning touchdown with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter and added a rushing touchdown and a long kickoff return as Rockdale clinched a playoff spot with an 18-14 win at Reid Stadium.
Rockdale, which started 0-4, but finished 3-7, is the No. 4 seed from Region 2-AAAAAA and will travel to Region 3-AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes for the first round of the state playoffs next Friday.
“It’s a big achievement for them,” said first-year Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “We could’ve easily packed it in (after the winless start). We’re determined.”
Druid Hills (4-6), trying to get to the state playoffs for the first time since 1956, led 14-12 after a seven-yard touchdown catch by Jaquan Johnson late in the third quarter. Things looked even better for the Red Devils when Desi Bigby blocked a punt on the ensuing Rockdale possession. But Johnson and quarterback Kyle Simmons fumbled an exchange and Jonathan Rhoden recovered, setting up Rockdale’s game-winning score.
The Bulldogs certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, turning a first-and-goal situation into a fourth-and-goal at the 11. After a time out, Steele got a hand off on a reverse, but instead of running pulled back and threw to Robert McCray, who was wide open, for an 11-yard touchdown.
“We were going to run just a straight reverse. We had been working on it for a couple weeks. It was a perfect time (to throw),” Elder said.
It was part of a fantastic night for Steele, just a freshman. He got Rockdale on the board with an eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, caught three passes for 76 yards and added a 53-yard kick off return in the third.
“He’s had a hell of a last three weeks,” Elder said of Steele. “He has a very high football IQ.”
Rockdale had an impressive drive to start the night, thanks in large part to Steele. The Bulldogs traveled 80 yards and ate up the first seven minutes of the game as Steele caught an 18-yard pass from Zuri Minifield and two plays later his 24-yard run got the Bulldogs to the Druid Hills 28. After Minifield’s 16-yard sneak on fourth-and-12 moved Rockdale to the 14, Steele took a hand off on a trap and scored to give the Bulldogs the first lead.
It didn’t last long. On Druid Hills’ second play from scrimmage, Johnson took a direct snap and exploded for a 62-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
Steele had a lot to say about Rockdale’s go-ahead score late in the first half. He had a 42-yard catch that preceded a six-yard run, and four plays later, Desmond Graham scooted in from six yards out to put Rockdale back in front, 12-7.
The teams punted twice each before Johnson's touchdown catch gave Druid Hills its final lead of the season.
Rockdale now moves on to the state playoffs where it will get a rematch with Langston Hughes, a fourth-year school in Fairburn. The Panthers current seven-game winning streak began with a 28-0 victory over Rockdale, September 21.
"One more week, and maybe more," said Elder. "We play somebody we've played before. It's a fifty-fifty shot. You never know playoff time. I like our chances. "