FAIRBURN - In just under 12 minutes of game action Friday in Fairburn, a close contest turned into a blowout. Langston Hughes scored touchdowns on three of their first five possessions in the second half, and added a fumble return for another score, turning a six-point lead into a 34-0 victory over Rockdale in non-region play at the Panther Pit.
While Langston Hughes won its third consecutive game to move to 3-1, Rockdale, which was trying to start 4-0 for the first time since 1987, instead dropped to 3-1.
Langston Hughes led just 6-0 at halftime, but immediately extended its lead. On the first possession of the third quarter, the Region 3-AAAAAA Panthers nearly turned the ball over on the kick off when the ball bounced hard off the chest of up-back Sage Hicks, but Hicks recovered at the Rockdale 37.
It took Langston Hughes eight plays to travel 63 yards, the key conversions coming when Bingo Morton broke an initial tackle and made a catch and run for 13 yards on third-and-ten, then caught an 18-yard pass from quarterback Kinan Humphrey to the Rockdale six. Robert Saunders took it in from six yards to put the hosts up 13-0.
Things unraveled for the Bulldogs shortly after that.
After the teams traded punts, Rockdale had the ball on its own 21 before quarterback Zuri Minnifield fumbled the first play from scrimmage and Langston Hughes’ lineman Deonte Jackson scooped up the ball and rumbled 11 yards for the touchdown and a 20-0 lead.
Rockdale went three-and-out and Devon Dawkins’ punt was blocked by Jocques Ross. Two plays later, Humphrey and Morton hooked up again, this time for a 15-yard touchdown and just eight minutes 20 seconds into the second half, Langston Hughes had a commanding, 27-0 cushion.
“We had some kids banged up, we put some back up players in, (Langston Hughes) took advantage of it. They got that punt blocked and they wanted it more than we did,” said second-year Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “No excuses.”
Both teams were coming off high-scoring games in week three but the defenses dominated the opening half.
Despite trailing by six points at halftime, Rockdale’s defense pitched a shut out. Langston Hughes, averaging nearly 29 points coming in, had just 118 total yards with 55 of the yards coming on the Panthers penultimate drive of the half, which resulted in a turnover on downs after a fourth down incompletion from the Rockdale 25.
Langston Hughes got into Rockdale territory on each of its final three possessions of the first half, but failed to score.
Rockdale’s offense was worse, collecting just 39 total yards in the first 24 minutes.
The Bulldogs, coming off a 42-point effort in last week’s win over Drew, got into Langston Hughes’ territory on two drives in the first half, getting as close as the Panthers’ 37-yard line late in the first quarter before Minnifield threw up a pass in traffic that was intercepted by Hicks.
The visitors also used a bad snap and weak punt by the Panthers to get to the 45, but after three plays had to punt themselves with 7:18 left in the half.
Langston Hughes got the only points of the half less than two minutes into the game.
Rockdale went three-and-out on the opening possession of the game and was forced to punt inside its own 35. Dawkins’ kick was fielded by Saunders and though he looked to have little room to maneuver from his own 45, Saunders exploded down the field for a 55-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a 6-0 advantage.
“We’re not getting down on punt coverage,” Elder said of Saunders’ return. “We’re just being lazy, they took advantage of it.”
Rockdale intercepted backup quarterback Kenny Moxey on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs’ offense, which gained 73 yards all night, went backwards two yards and two plays after a punt, Emile Sexton exploded through the middle and scored from 40 yards to make it a 34-0 game.
“I don’t think (the loss is) a step back,” Elder said of his team, which won three of its first four games for the first time since 2008. “As a staff, we got to make better adjustments (as well), to get these kids in position to make plays, together as a staff.”
Though Langston Hughes is just a fifth-year program, it has already beaten Region 2-AAAAAA Rockdale three times. The Panthers defeated the Conyers school twice a season ago, including in the first round of the state playoffs.