CONYERS - Before a third quarter kick off in Friday’s game at Reid Stadium, Rockdale coach Venson Elder was asking someone on his team to step up and make a play. Unfortunately for Elder, Curtiss Benton had been making plays the entire evening.
Benton was a defensive force for Alcovy and his fumble return for a touchdown late in the game allowed the visitors to get a bit of breathing room in a 22-7 victory.
Alcovy moved to 4-1 in Region 2-AAAAAA, setting up a showdown next week with defending champion and 5-0 Lovejoy for the league title. Rockdale, now 2-3, was hoping to move up to the No. 2 seed with the win, but instead is in danger of missing the playoffs heading into its regular season finale at Druid Hills.
Benton made sure the Tigers would have a chance at the first championship in school history as the senior had three sacks, a number of tackles for loss and his recovery of a fumble by Rockdale quarterback Tajee Steele and 10-yard touchdown return with just over five minutes to play all-but-sealed the road win.
“Trying to make all the plays. Play hard every down,” Benton said of his mentality. “Our seniors lead the way, just good leadership.”
“I told everybody from day one, defense was going to have to carry us,” said Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman. “We played hard.”
Okon Godwin had given Alcovy a 13-0 lead with a two-yard touchdown run midway through the third and though the two-point conversion attempt failed, Rockdale was hit with a helmet-to-helmet penalty, giving the Tigers new life. Alcovy took advantage as quarterback Tristen Payne scooted in for the conversion and a 15-0 lead.
That’s when Elder began his plea on the sideline. The hosts soon responded. Alcovy punter Jason Trowbridge couldn’t handle a snap and punt for minus-1 yard, setting up Rockdale at the 14. Aided by a pass interference penalty on third-and-eight that gave the Bullodgs a third-and-two at the six, Steele scored from six yards out and it was a 15-7 game.
A series of miscues followed.
First, Payne was intercepted by Malik Dawkins, and though Alcovy forced a punt, Payne lost a fumble on the ensuing possession that was recovered by Malachi Chang-Smith. Rockdale gave it right back as Steele had trouble with the snap on fourth-and-three from the Alcovy 37 and the Tigers took over on downs.
Alcovy looked to be set to put the game away, getting to the Rockdale 9 thanks to 35 yards on five carrioes from Payne and a 15-yard personal foul penalty by Rockdale. But Payne coughed up the ball again as Robert McRae scopped up the loose ball at the Rockdale 20. The Bulldogs didn’t have it long. After a false start penalty, Steele lost the ball and Benton caught it in mid-air in cruised into the end zone un-touched to make it 22-7.
“We didn’t play well (but)…we won,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of my kids.”
Both offenses got off to a dreadful start, but each got going a bit as halftime approached. While Alcovy converted on its first sustained possession of the half, Rockdale blew its chance at points.
Rockdale had just 36 total yards before driving down the field midway through the second quarter. Steele was 3-for-4 for 58 yards on the drive, including a 17-yard hook up with Terrell McLaughlin to the Alcovy 8.
On a first-and-goal run, Anthony Davis looked to have a touchdown and the first points of the game, but fumbled. Robert Bullard recovered for the Tigers, which set up the only points of the half.
Alcovy began at its own 20 and broke up the shut out in just one minute 28 seconds.
Payne completed 6-of-9 passes, three of the tosses going to D’Anthony Bell. Payne tried to find Jaylin Penny on a pair of passes in the end zone, but both fell incomplete, though Penny made a catch just out of bounds on second down.
The Tigers went for it on fourth-and-five from the 18 and this time Payne connected, hooking up with Bell for an 18-yard touchdown that sent Alcovy into the locker room up 7-0.
Before that 80-yard drive, Payne had completed just five passes in the entire half and thrown a first quarter interception and Alcovy collected just 26 total yards.
Four of the first five second half possessions ended with turnovers, including a fumble and interception from Payne, Godwin’s interception of Steele and Rockdale losing the ball on an end-around play just before Godwin’s rushing touchdown.