A year ago, Harlin Brown and Winder-Barrow came up on the short end of the “Battle of Barrow” when the normally sure-footed kicking specialist’s rare missed extra-point attempt opened the door for a 7-6 win by Apalachee in overtime.
But on Friday, Oct. 4, the Bulldoggs avenged that loss, and Brown’s leg proved to be the difference. The senior booted three field goals, his perfectly-placed punt inside the Apalachee 1-yard line led to a fourth-quarter safety, and the Bulldoggs held off a late rally by the Wildcats to prevail 24-19 in front of an overflow crowd at W. Clair Harris Stadium.
“This is an ecstatic feeling,” Brown said as the Bulldoggs celebrated on the field after the victory, which extended their lead in the all-time series over the Wildcats to 9-7 (their sixth win in the last seven years against their crosstown rivals) and improved their record to 2-3 overall and, more importantly, 1-0 in GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA. “We’ve really gotten back to having happiness around the program like we had my sophomore year when we went 9-3. We’ve been working hard up to this point, and I think it’s starting to come together for us.”
The Bulldoggs grabbed control of a back-and-forth contest in the second half but had to sweat it out at the end. AJ Forbing’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Goss brought Apalachee (2-4, 0-1 region) to within 24-19 following Adrian Lopez’s extra point with 1:54 remaining in the game, and the Wildcats got even more life when Tyson Wilson recovered Brody Ham’s perfectly-executed onside kick at the Winder-Barrow 47.
But the Bulldogg defense stiffened. After they stopped Apalachee running back Shaan Cook for a two-yard loss, James Albury sacked Forbing, and a pair of incomplete passes turned the ball back over to the Bulldoggs, who were able to take one knee to run out the clock.
“I’m very proud of the team,” Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley said. “We had some trouble there closing the deal and getting out of here. We played a lot of young guys because of injuries and had two freshmen inside linebackers in there that last drive, which was giving me heart palpitations.
“But you’ve got to credit Apalachee. They never quit fighting. That’s a class program over there, and once again, this was a heck of a rivalry game.”
Both teams exchanged blow after blow throughout the first half. Winder-Barrow took the opening kickoff, started at its 20-yard line and marched all the way down inside the Wildcat 5, before penalties and a Tyrik Sims sack of Jhaydon Sullivan forced the Bulldoggs to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Brown.
The Wildcats responded with a 13-play, 80-yard march that soaked up more than seven minutes of clock into the second quarter and ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Forbing to make it 6-3 after Lopez’s point-after attempt was blocked.
The Bulldoggs came right back with a five-play, 74-yard drive — capped by Sullivan’s 44-yard touchdown pass to freshman Aiden Thompson — to go up 10-6 with 8:54 left in the first half. Sullivan, a senior, had another big night for the Bulldoggs, going 8-of-9 through the air for 165 yards while adding 70 yards on the ground on 14 carries. Junior J.C. Green led Winder-Barrow with 133 yards on 20 carries. Meanwhile, Thompson showed why the Bulldoggs decided to bring him up to the varsity level right away, catching the touchdown pass and filling in at inside linebacker for a defense that was saddled with a handful of injuries.
“I told Jhaydon at the half he was throwing dimes out there,” Dudley said. “He really played well and his ability to run the ball really sets up so much of what we do offensively. And Aiden is just fantastic. I’m proud of him and what he’s doing. I can’t wait for us to get some guys back healthy, though.”
Apalachee countered Sullivan’s touchdown pass by covering 80 yards in 10 plays. The drive appeared to have stalled, but on fourth down-and-16, Forbing rolled out and found a wide-open Colby Sikes down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats up 12-10 before a failed two-point conversion attempt with 3:57 to go in the half.
Once again, though, the Wildcat lead was short-lived. The Bulldoggs went 63 yards in eight plays and Green’s 9-yard touchdown run made it 16-12 with 1:54 to play.
Winder-Barrow got a huge defensive play on the following possession when Andrew Lewis intercepted a Forbing pass near midfield and returned it to the Wildcat 10 with 12 seconds left in the half. After a holding penalty against the Bulldoggs, Brown knocked a 38-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 19-12 at the break.
The Bulldoggs held Apalachee to a three-and-out to start the second half and then extended their lead. A 36-yard pass from Sullivan to Brett Landis got the ball down to the Wildcat 13, and Brown’s 33-yarder a few plays later made it 22-12 with 7:21 left in the third quarter.
Apalachee then embarked on a long 15-play drive that consumed the rest of the third quarter, but a low snap caused Lopez’s 35-yard field goal try to come up short and the Wildcats came away empty-handed.
“Offensively, I felt like we moved the ball, but there were key spots where we botched things and didn’t come away with points,” Apalachee coach Tony Lotti said. “There were a lot of big plays made on both sides tonight, but the bottom line is they made a couple more than we did.”
Perhaps no play was bigger for Winder-Barrow, though, than Brown’s 40-yard punt, which angled out of bounds about a foot short of the goal line. On the next play, Forbing was consumed by a mass of Bulldogg defenders in the end zone for a safety that made it 24-12 with 6:20 remaining. It was practically a repeat moment from Sept. 20, when Brown’s long punt to the Loganville 1-yard line led to a safety and helped fuel the Bulldoggs’ come-from-behind victory.
“He’s really done a great job of killing those punts inside tight,” Dudley said of Brown. “I can’t say enough about him. It’s why he’s one of our captains. He’s a huge part of our program.”
For Brown, Friday’s performance served as a bit of redemption but also, he hopes, an eye opener for college programs that will be looking for a kicker for next fall. He has shown off his strong leg with lengthy field goals (including a 47-yarder at Oconee County on Sept. 27), maintained a solid punting average and had the vast majority of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
“I felt amazing about (Friday), but I really came into it with a business mindset, not an emotional one,” Brown said, adding he hasn’t received any collegiate offers yet but that he hopes to talk to more coaches as the year progresses.
“I would love to kick in college, and I think (Friday night) helped,” he said. “But more importantly, our team had a great night.”
Following the safety, the Bulldoggs got the ball back but had to punt, and Apalachee went on a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Forbing’s touchdown pass to Goss. Forbing, a senior, finished 8-of-16 for 138 yards, two touchdowns and an interception to go along with the rushing touchdown. Dorian Sadler tallied 76 rushing yards on 14 attempts, while Cook finished with 69 yards on 17 carries.
“We kept fighting, which is our MO. We’re not going to quit,” Lotti said. “I wish we had performed better, but give credit to (Dudley) and Winder. They did what they needed to do to win a football game, and we didn’t. You can’t play behind the sticks like we did and expect a different outcome. We didn’t stay true to our process and it got us.
“But I’m proud of how hard we played at the end. We gave ourselves a shot to win, and it was a good game for people to see. Both teams worked very hard.”
Apalachee and Winder-Barrow will be off Oct. 11 before resuming region play Oct. 18. The Wildcats will host top-ranked Dacula, which rolled over Gainesville 42-7 in its region opener Friday. The Bulldoggs will travel to Lanier to take on the sixth-ranked Longhorns, who knocked off Habersham Central 42-22 to open region play.
“I really feel like we’re coming together,” Dudley said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do, but this was a good win going into an off week.”
A 0 12 0 7 — 19
W 3 16 3 2 — 24
W—Harlin Brown 32 FG
A—AJ Forbing 4 run (kick failed)
W—Aiden Thompson 44 pass from Jhaydon Sullivan (Brown kick)
A—Colby Sikes 32 pass from Forbing (run failed)
W—J.C. Green 9 run (run failed)
W—Brown 38 FG
W—Brown 33 FG
A—Hayden Goss 34 pass from Forbing (Adrian Lopez kick)