In a battle for the Region 5AAAAA championship, the third-ranked Raiders piled up yardage, first downs and touchdowns and outgained the fourth-ranked Buccaneers by more than 200 yards en route to a 25-7 victory Nov. 9 at the Bone Yard in Dallas.
Allatoona’s two 1,000-yard rushers — T.J. Herron and Josh Bettistea — were limited to a combined 73 yards on the ground, while the Buccaneers were held to 34 total rushing yards by the Raiders’ defense. East Paulding totaled 301 rushing yards and outgained Allatoona 401-180.
East Paulding (10-0, 10-0) recorded its second undefeated regular season in program history and first since 2007, which was also the last time the Raiders claimed a region championship.
Allatoona (9-1, 9-1) lost for the first time, but it still walked away as the region runner-up and will host Region 8AAAAA No. 3 Heritage-Conyers next week in the first round of the state playoffs.
“It’s definitely tough to have this kind of a game against a very good team at the end of the regular season, but we have to bounce back,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “We have to get ready for next week.”
East Paulding will host Clarke Central.
Allatoona proved its mettle early by sustaining drives on two of its first three possessions. Unfortunately, the first drive stalled behind Nate Shaw’s missed 38-yard field goal, while the third ended in a Jeremy Uzee interception. The other drive resulted in a punt.
On the other side of the ball, East Paulding put together scoring drives on its first two possessions. Kamani Thomas, who carried the ball 22 times for 131 yards, capped a seven-play drive with a 17-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
Kyler Neal, who rushed for 113 yards on 12 carries, added to the Raiders’ first-half scoring with a 48-yard jaunt to the end zone with 9:48 on the clock in the second period to finish a 4-play drive. But Miles Hemphill’s point-after attempt hit the goal post as East Paulding led 13-0.
The Raiders almost scored again on their last possession, but Hemphill missed a 37-yard field goal wide left at the end of a 4-minute, 13-play drive with 25 seconds remaining until halftime.
“(East Paulding was) very physical up front,” Varner said. “We had some good drives, too, in the first half but came away with nothing. That’s on me. I put our kids in some bad positions. But you can’t take anything away from East Paulding. They’re tough to beat.”
On East Paulding’s first possession of the second half, Mitchell Webb almost completed an 83-yard touchdown pass to Neal, but the play was called back because of a block-in-the-back penalty. Thomas fumbled the ball on the next play from scrimmage, and Allatoona recovered.
However, the Buccaneers couldn’t capitalize and still trailed by 14.
The Raiders did take advantage on their next drive which resulted in a 10-yard touchdown run for Neal.
Hemphill kicked a 37-yard field goal with 9:39 remaining for a 23-0 advantage, and a failed Allatoona punt attempt that sailed over the head of Shaw led to a safety and a 25-0 lead at the 7:33 mark.
Uzee’s 27-yard completion to Tommy Davis, along with Bettistea’s 18-yard run, fueled Allatoona’s lone scoring drive. Uzee found Clarence Soleberry in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 3:39 left.
Chris Colman recovered the onside kick, but the Buccaneers failed to convert on fourth-and-19, and East Paulding ran out the clock on its final possession.
“That score didn’t mean anything, but it was important to show how the kids fought hard at the end,” Varner said. “We came back and got the onside kick and didn’t give up. We played for four quarters.”
Uzee completed 16 of 23 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. Davis had six catches for 78 yards.
“We have some big, strong kids on the line of scrimmage,” said East Paulding coach Chuck Goddard, a first-year head coach after several seasons as Walton’s defensive coordinator. “We controlled the line of scrimmage (Friday) and was able to pound and grind it out. This is huge momentum for us for the playoffs.”