For a moment early in the third quarter Friday night, Aug. 27, Winder-Barrow had the momentum blowing its way.
Junior Aidan Thompson had just blocked an Eastside punt out of the end zone for a safety to cut the Bulldoggs’ deficit down to two points and give them the ball with a chance to regain the lead. But Winder-Barrow’s offense couldn’t get anything going, and the Eagles promptly extended their lead on a long touchdown run by senior running back Dallas Johnson and seized control of the game from there en route to a 20-8 season-opening win at W. Clair Harris Stadium.
It was the second year in a row that Eastside (1-0), the ninth-ranked team in GHSA Class 5A, opened its season with a victory in Winder and the second year in a row the Bulldoggs were torched by Johnson, the talented stalwart with multiple Division I offers under his belt who finished with 212 yards on 30 carries — a year after he ran for 250 yards on 28 touches on the same field.
Meanwhile, the Bulldoggs (1-1) struggled mightily on offense throughout the night, particularly in the run game where they were held to just 16 yards by a stout Eagle defense.
“(Johnson is a) good back, and credit to Eastside. They played really well tonight,” Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley said after Friday’s loss. “We just never really got our offense on track tonight, and to win we’ve got to find a way to put points on the board.”
After the safety made it a 10-8 game with 9:15 left in the third quarter, Winder-Barrow went three-and-out and the Eagles put together a 74-yard scoring drive as Johnson slithered through a hole on a third down-and-2 play and raced 41 yards into the end zone to put his team ahead 17-8 with 4:30 left in the quarter.
The Bulldoggs fumbled it away on their next possession, then recovered a fumble of their own but couldn’t take advantage of Eastside’s red zone miscue. The Eagles would tack on three more points in the fourth quarter on Rodney Williams’ 41-yard field goal.
Of Winder-Barrow’s 153 total yards for the night, over half of them came on the Bulldoggs’ second drive of the game.
Following a more than hour-long weather delay that took effect less than four minutes into the game, Eastside came out of the locker room and took an early 3-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal by Williams. But the Bulldoggs responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive, fueled by three big passes from junior quarterback Conyer Smith — first a 15-yarder to Tyreeck Hall, then a 37-yard completion to Tre Gaudlock then a quick slant to Trevor Summerfield on third-and-long that went for a 21-yard touchdown that put the Doggs ahead 6-3 with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
Winder-Barrow’s Daniel Pineda recovered an Eastside fumble at the Eagles’ 34 on the ensuing possession, but the Bulldoggs couldn’t cash in on the opportunity as they moved only six yards before turning the ball over on downs.
A little more than midway through the second quarter, the Eagles got a 19-yard punt return to the Winder-Barrow 38 and took less than three minutes to grab the lead back from the Bulldoggs. The key play came on fourth-and-1 from the 29 when Johnson ran up the gut from 11 yards, and Kenal Grier finished off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Smith finished 8-of-20 for 137 yards and the touchdown pass to lead Winder-Barrow’s offensive effort, but the lack of rushing production kept the Bulldoggs unbalanced and prevented them from sustaining any drives other than the one that ended with Summerfield’s TD grab.
“We had no run game, and that predicates our passing game, so it really hampered us,” Dudley said. “I really have no explanation. We were not in sync tonight. …We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get better.”
The Bulldoggs will take a long road trip down to Brunswick Sept. 3 for a matchup with fellow 6A school Glynn Academy for their first away game of the year.
E 3 7 7 3 — 20
W 6 0 2 0 — 8
E—Rodney Williams 37 field goal
W—Trevor Summerfield 21 pass from Conyer Smith (kick failed)
E—Kenal Grier 4 run (Williams kick)
E—Dallas Johnson 41 run (Williams kick)
E—Williams 41 field goal