CONYERS - After Friday’s game against Heritage, Rockdale’s Anthony Davis said the only thing on he and his teammates’ minds was to dominate the opposition.
Davis tackled punter Austin Kulp in the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning safety and Rockdale’s defense was fantastic in a 9-7 victory at Evans Memorial Stadium.
Rockdale accomplished a number of things with the emotional victory. First, the Bulldogs defeated Heritage for the first time since another two-point victory in 2008, snapping a four-game losing streak in the series. The Bulldogs are also 2-0 and defeated both Heritage and Salem for the first time since 2008.
Quite a night for the upstart Bulldogs.
“All the doubts are over, we’re going to move forward from this day forward,” said second-year Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “This is the new Rockdale now.”
“Only mindset is to dominate and win,” said Davis.
Rockdale led 7-0 and looked poised to go up by two touchdowns on a Keijine Thomas-led fourth quarter drive. Thomas carried five times for 33 yards and the Bulldogs got help from two Heritage penalties to get to the two-yard line. But Thomas fumbled on the ensuing play, Obie Fortune recovered and Heritage had five and a half minutes to drive for the tying score.
That drive never materialized as three quick plays led to a punt attempt, and when the snap was low and away from Kulp he tried to get out of the end zone. Davis was too quick, and he tackled Kulp in the back of the end zone to put Rockdale up 9-0.
“As soon as I saw the ball, I said ‘I got to get it,’” said Davis.
Rockdale couldn’t milk the rest of the clock and after a punt left the host Patriots with 1:36. It was enough for the Patriots as Ryan Sutton led a six-play drive that was aided by a personal foul penalty on Rockdale, and Sutton found Ryan Phillips for a nine-yard touchdown that made it a 9-7 game.
Kulp’s on-sides kick was recovered by Terrell McLaughlin to seal the victory.
“It feels great,” said Elder. “I’m new to this rivalry, but these kids have been waiting a long time. The seniors had never beaten (Heritage). Tonight they stepped up. When you win games like this, you grow.”
It was a scoreless game until Rockdale put together a one-play touchdown drive on its first possession of the second half. Bulldogs quarterback Zuri Minnifield connected with Joseph Wright and Wright did the rest, breaking tackles and scoring from 74 yards for the first points of the game.
Until the safety with 3:46 to play in the game, the teams traded turnovers and missed opportunities.
Heritage’s C.J. Stone fumbled on the ensuing play from scrimmage, but Rockdale turned around and had a punt blocked by Anthony Stanley.
The Patriots went four-and-out after an unsuccessful pass attempt on fourth-and-five by Sutton, then after a Rockdale punt, a scrambling Sutton fumbled and Rockdale’s Keyani Grier pounced on the loose ball with 2:19 left in the third.
“They’re tough, they play hard,” Elder said of the Rockdale defense, which has allowed seven points through the first two games. “Defense played a great game.”
Both offenses struggled to move the ball during a scoreless first half, though each had an opportunity to kick a go-ahead field goal. Midway through the second quarter, Rockdale had the ball just inside Heritage territory before Thomas had the first of his fumbles and Patriots’ lineman Derek Nance recovered at the Rockdale 48.
The Patriots followed with the most sustained drive of the opening half. Sutton hooked up with Stanley for a 14-yard completion on third-and-15, then Sutton picked up the first down by himself on a one-yard sneak. On another third-and-long, Sutton found another receiver, this time connecting with Obie Fortune, who made a circus catch for 33 yards to the Rockdale five.
A pair of penalties and Taylor Anderson’s sack of Sutton pushed back Heritage to the 18 and brought up fourth down. With 1:05 left in the half, Kulp was wide right on a 35-yard field goal attempt.
Minnifield helped led the Bulldogs to what looked to be a scoring drive early in the second quarter. Minnifield completed 5-of-6 passes to three different receivers, but his only incompletion came on third-and-seven and forced the Bulldogs to attempt a field goal.
Like his counterpart would later in the half, Devon Dawkins’ 30-yard attempt missed wide right, though the miss was aided by a low snap.
Heritage ended the first half with a net of just 74 total yards, but Rockdale, which only had two rushing yards, finished the half with 50 total yards.