After the extra-long wait for a new season brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Winder-Barrow and Apalachee put on a show Friday night, Sept. 4, for the scaled-back, restricted crowd at R. Harold Harrison Stadium as the “Battle of Barrow” rivalry went right down to the wire for a third straight year.
In the end, it was Winder-Barrow head coach Ed Dudley walking back to the sideline with the game trophy and being mobbed by his players, who showered him with water from their bottles. Senior running back J.C. Green scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 61-yard run halfway through the fourth quarter, and the Bulldoggs held off a last-ditch effort by the Wildcats to win 34-27 in both teams’ season opener.
It was Winder-Barrow’s second win in a row over its crosstown rival and seventh in the last eight years. The Bulldoggs now lead the all-time series 10-7.
Elated, thrilled, relieved — all those emotions were swirling for Dudley after the win, but there was also happiness that a high school football game was played in Barrow County on Friday night after doubts had lingered for weeks around getting the season off the ground amid the ongoing pandemic.
“I think that was two pretty good teams playing each other tonight,” Dudley said, taking a brief break from his face mask. “My hat’s off to Apalachee. That’s a quality team and they played really well. I was really proud of our ‘dirty dozen’ seniors stepping up. We had some tremendous kids playing both ways. We knew we would have to play with some heart tonight and we did that.”
Undoubtedly the senior who made the biggest impact in Friday night’s back-and-forth battle was Green, a two-year starter in the backfield who finished just shy of 1,000 yards in his 10-game junior season. He got off on solid footing toward achieving that goal this year, running for 184 yards on just 17 carries and the four scores. His 61-yard touchdown run with 5:05 remaining, in which he weaved in and out away from Apalachee defenders, put the Bulldoggs on top for good, and his strong performance behind a veteran offensive line with five starters back helped take the pressure off Winder-Barrow junior quarterback Trevor Summerfield, who was making his first-career varsity start and went 3-of-9 through the air for 71 yards.
“We’ve got to clean some stuff up in the passing game, but I feel pretty good about the way he performed,” Dudley said of Summerfield, who aired one out 47 yards to Stewart Allen to set up the Bulldoggs’ first score of the night — a 15-yard run by Green two plays later early in the second quarter that cut an early deficit down to 7-6. “I’m super-excited about our run game and offensive line. I just think we’ve got to keep working and get a little better each week.
“J.C. was really playing hard. This is a local rivalry, and we like to say it’s a clean rivalry here in Winder with two good teams playing each other the right way. But these guys really wanted this one.”
Green’s eventual game-winner came right after Apalachee’s Brody Ham pushed a 32-yard field goal try off to the right. But after Green’s score, the Wildcats took over at their 27-yard line with 4:59 remaining and steadily marched down to the Bulldoggs’ 23 in an effort to tie the game and potentially force overtime. Senior quarterback Todd Jones nearly did that when he hit receivers Colby Sikes and Charlie Hych in the hands in the end zone on third and fourth down from the 23. But neither Sikes nor Hych were able to hang on as Winder-Barrow defensive backs Jamarious Smith and Alex Cha were able to get a hand in on the respective plays, and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs with 1:05 left. With Apalachee only having one time out left, Summerfield was able to take three knees and close out the victory.
For Apalachee coach Tony Lotti, the incompletions that just missed being touchdowns, the missed field goal and a pair of costly turnovers amounted to a frustrating night where the Wildcats moved the ball consistently but made far too many costly mistakes to escape with a win.
“We did all the things you can’t do and expect to win a game,” Lotti said. “I liked how our two-minute offense worked and how our offense was moving the ball. I saw a lot of positives. But we did not tackle well at all. My hat’s off to Ed and his guys. We knew Green was awesome. He was shifty tonight and made us miss on a lot of tackles. A few times we ran right into him and let him go, but a lot of that’s attributed to him. He’s a special back and had himself a really good game.
“At the end of the day, this game is still about blocking and tackling and we’ve got to get better at that.”
The Wildcats had their wing-T offense clicking for much of the night, rolling up 350 yards on the ground, including 85 on their second drive of the game as part of a 16-play, 95-yard march that chewed up seven minutes of clock and culminated in Jones’ 1-yard plunge that gave Apalachee a 7-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats’ second touchdown drive of the night went 71 yards on 11 plays and was capped by an 8-yard run by Jakobe Hudson to put AHS up 14-13 with 2:09 left in the half. Colby Sikes’ 1-yard sneak on a direct snap with 16 seconds left in the half extended the Wildcats’ cushion to 20-13 and gave them the momentum heading into halftime.
Jones added 83 yards through the air on 7-of-14 passing, including a 22-yard touchdown strike to Hych that tied the game at 27-27 with just over a minute left in the third quarter.
But there were also two key turnovers on fumbles committed by Apalachee — one on a kickoff that led to Green’s second touchdown and Winder-Barrow’s first lead of the game and the other on the Wildcats’ opening drive of the second half, which led to a five-play, 45-yard touchdown drive — finished off with a 14-yard run by Smith.
“I was really proud of our coaches for how hard we worked getting ready for this game. We had a good plan that we really had to guess at because there was no film (on Winder-Barrow) going in,” Lotti said. “And still, we were able to put up over 400 yards. But the bottom line is what I preach to my players about the first five minutes of the third quarter. We had the lead, we got the ball first coming out of the locker room, and then we served it up to them. This game’s probably a whole lot different if we execute our game plan for that first five minutes of the second half.”
The Wildcats were also dealt a blow when senior running back Tauheed Ferguson, who ran for 90 yards on 15 carries in the first half, had to leave the game with a knee injury after his first carry of the second half. Ferguson, a speedster who is one of the top track and field hurdlers in the state, was back after his tearing his ACL in the 2019 season opener and missing the entire year. While he tried to walk off his knee injury on the sidelines Friday night, he was unable to re-enter the game, and Lotti said he wasn't sure if Ferguson would be available for the Wildcats' upcoming game against Habersham Central.
Sikes led the Wildcats in rushing with 119 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
“My heart breaks for him on that because I watched him rehab all year and work so hard to get back,” Lotti said of Ferguson. “He’s a really good player and him not being in the game made a big impact, so hopefully this is nothing major.”
Ultimately both coaches left Friday’s game with similar thoughts about the rest of the season and the nine other scheduled games — there were many positives, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“Our goals are still out there,” said Lotti, who is trying to guide the Wildcats to their first playoff appearance in 11 years. “I feel pretty good about where we are in some areas but there’s others that we’ve got to address and fix starting now. We’ve got to make sure we’re not doing those things to help our opponent.”
“In the early games a lot of times, those self-inflicted wounds will kill you,” Dudley said. “And we still had too many tonight, but it was better than a year ago. We were able to avoid turnovers, which was a good thing. We had way too many missed tackles and penalties but we’ll work on that.
“Overall, I’m just proud of this team and I’m glad our town is back to as much normalcy as we can get right now.”
Both teams will be back in action Friday, Sept. 11, with home non-region games kicking off at 7:30 p.m.
The Bulldoggs will host Eastside High School of Covington as the Eagles will be playing their season opener. Eastside, a Class 5A program and a member of Apalachee's region for at least 2020 and 2021, is coming off a 7-4 campaign in 2019 and is under the guidance of Troy Hoff, who has a 41-14-1 record through his first five seasons with the program and four straight playoff appearances highlighted by a 12-1 region championship season in 2018.
A win by the Bulldoggs would give Dudley his 200th in a head coaching career that dates back to 1992. Dudley is in his 27th season as a head coach and has compiled a 199-102 mark between five programs — Buford, Walton, Ware County, Carrollton and Winder-Barrow. He had a two-year hiatus in 2016-17, when he was the offensive coordinator at Wesleyan, before joining the Bulldoggs. Dudley's teams have won seven region championships and he led Ware County to a 5A state finals appearance in 2012.
Dudley's 200th win would include him with only 60 other coaches in Georgia high school football history so far who have achieved that milestone. Stratford Academy's Mark Farriba (199-128-3) is also going for his 200th win Friday.
Meanwhile, Apalachee will host former region foe Habersham Central, a rematch of last year's season finale at AHS which the Wildcats won in a 56-49 shootout. The Raiders are coming off a 27-6 home victory over Madison County in their season opener.
Senior two-way star Joshua Pickett, a preseason all-state player for Class 6A and three-star recruit at cornerback who is committed to Duke, leads Habersham. Formerly a receiver on offense, Pickett has shifted over to quarterback this fall following the graduation of Ryte Woodruff and had a touchdown pass in the win over the Red Raiders.
WINDER-BARROW 34, APALACHEE 27
W 0 13 14 7 — 34
A 7 13 7 0 — 27
A—Todd Jones 1 run (Brody Ham kick)
W—J.C. Green 15 run (kick failed)
W—Green 6 run (Ivan Rodriguez kick)
A—Jakobe Hudson 8 run (Ham kick)
A—Colby Sikes 1 run (kick failed)
W—Jamarious Smith 14 run (Rodriguez kick)
W—Green 26 run (Rodriguez kick)
A—Charlie Hych 22 pass from Jones (Ham kick)
W—Green 61 run (Rodriguez kick)