The Rockdale football team sure has enjoyed its two recent visits to Evans Memorial Stadium.
Tajee Steele and Devin Williams each had long touchdowns and the Bulldogs hung on for a 28-26 victory over Heritage in the season opener between the longtime rivals.
After being outscored 105-25 in enduring four consecutive losses to its crosstown rival, Rockdale (1-0) won a two-point game at Evans for the second straight season.
Rockdale extended its lead to 28-20 after Zuri Minnifield found Tajaun Warren for a four-yard touchdown with 3:38 to play in the fourth quarter. Placekicker Andrew Tanner was wide left on the extra point attempt, giving Heritage (0-1) a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The Patriots got the touchdown — quarterback David Turner capped a nice night under center (11 of 20 for 208 yards) by driving the hosts 86 yards in just six plays, including connecting with Kalif Dobson for a 50-yard completion into Rockdale territory and later a 20-yard strike for a score with a minute and a half left. A questionable pass intereference call on third-and-long also helped the Heritage offense get inside the Rockdale 25.
Heritage handed to C.J. Stone to try and tie the game on the two-point attempt, but Stone was met at the line of scrimmage by Keythone Robinson.
Andre Deas’ onside kick was recovered by Warren, effectively ending Heritage’s comeback bid.
Rockdale erased a 12-point first-half deficit and went up 15-12 when Williams scooted 46 yards for a score with a minute to play in the second. It was a 22-12 game after Minnifield polished off a nine-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left in the third.
Heritage fought back with the help of a gamble on fourth down. A drive stalled at the Heritage 49 on the final play of the third and the Patriots lined up to punt the ball away as the final period began.
Instead of a kick, Stone took the direct snap and ran 21 yards down the sideline to set up a first down at the Rockdale 30. The first big fourth quarter pass interference penalty called on Rockdale helped keep the drive alive, and two plays later, Kenan Johnson got into the end zone from 15 yards out to make it a 22-18 game. Heritage was set to attempt the extra point hoping to cut the deficit to three points, but on the snap Rockdale was hit with an offsides penalty. The Patriots changed their minds and went for two points and Stone scored easily to slice the deficit to 22-20.
Heritage didn’t design a quarterback draw on the game’s first possession, but after fielding a low snap on third-and-13, signal caller Anthony Stanley scooted 44 yards to the Rockdale 28.
The Bulldogs seemed to have snuffed out the drive after Mike Murray made a nice tackle to turn a running play into negative yardage, an incompletion and Murray’s sack of Stanley to bring up fourth-and-22. Rather than attempt a long field goal, Turner went from the shotgun and found Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown to put the hosts up 6-0 at the 7:46 mark of the opening quarter.
Williams got plenty of touches on Rockdale’s first offensive possession, carrying five times for 27 yards and adding a nine-yard catch on a screen pass to get the Bulldogs to the Heritage six. Williams was stymied by Daniel Foster on third-and-short as the Heritage linebacker came up with a big tackle that set up a field goal situation. Tanner was wide right from 26 yards out to keep Rockdale scoreless.
Turner was at his best on a second quarter drive. He completed all four of his pass attempts on the 11-play jaunt, including a 38-yard connection with Ryan Phillips in which Phillips made a nice catch in single coverage and got to the Rockdale two. Three players later, Stone took a direct snap and rumbled in from a yard out to put Heritage up 12-0 with four and a half minutes left until halftime.
Before that, Rockdale had two chances to put the ball in the end zone, but Steele had a high pass from Minnifield go off his fingertips, then Heritage defensive back Romello Armstrong made a great play to break up what looked to be a touchdown toss to Jacari Cameron.
Steele and Minnifield got some payback late in the second quarter when the two hooked up on a 69-yard touchdown that got the Bulldogs to within 12-8.