TD Celebration

George Walton Academy seniors Jake Whitten (4) and Austin Cole (59) celebrate a Bulldog touchdown in their first-round high school football playoff victory over Holy Innocents’ on Friday night in Sandy Springs.

SANDY SPRINGS — The Bulldogs kicked off its high school football playoff run with a jaunt to Sandy Springs to face Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School on a crisp Black Friday evening. 

The Golden Bears were forced to host George Walton at Riverside International Charter School, as they do for all home night games given their own stadium has no lights, but they clearly held the home field advantage given their familiarity with the site. 

Nevertheless, it was the Bulldogs who soon felt right at home, manhandling the Bears on the way to a 32-7 win. 

Neither team dominated early, however. The Bulldogs were unable to parlay the opening possession into anything and punted early, while the Bears, seemingly more successful with a push into GWA territory, came up empty after missing a 37-yard field goal. 

Following the missed kick, the Bulldogs struck, using big runs by Gavin Hall and Jackson Ellerbee to reach the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Hall pushed it in for the lead, though the kick was no good. 

The Bulldogs started off the second quarter with the ball after a defensive stop and drove steadily down the field, scoring at last on a 2-yard run by Hall. Sully Croker nailed the point-after for a 13-0 lead. 

After another stop on defense, the Bulldogs wasted no time on the next possession, handing off to Jake Whitten, who sprinted around the left side for a 74-yard touchdown. 

The Bears answered with a kickoff return for a touchdown, only to see it reversed on a holding call. A series of penalties further marched them backwards before a long run got them to midfield. 

The Bears would reach as far as the 18, converting one fourth-and-inches play, before turning the ball over on downs on an attempted fourth-and-4 pass. 

The Bears started with the ball in the third quarter, but a promising drive ended early after the Bulldogs stopped a fourth-and-1 run at their own 41. 

Three plays later, the Bulldogs faced their own fourth-and-1 at the 50 and came up inches short to return the ball to Holy Innocents’. 

There would be no dramatics on the next fourth down, a 10-yard deficit that ended in a Bears punt. 

The Bulldogs punted it back after three plays, but the Bears didn’t keep it long, fumbling it away near midfield into GWA hands. 

After a scoreless third quarter, the Bulldogs reached the scoreboard again at last on the turnover created possession, as Jackson Ellerbee dashed into the end zone from 38 yards out for a 26-0 lead. The kick sailed wide again. 

The Bears were scrambling, forced to take to the air more to gain yards, but it ended in disaster when Bradyn Sorrow intercepted an errant pass thrown under pressure and returned the ball to the end zone for another touchdown. 

The air mail option worked better for the Bears on the next drive as a 40-yard bomb reached the 6-yard line. Three plays later, the Bears finally scored to avoid the shutout. 

The Bulldogs recovered the attempted onside kick at the 50 and began burning clock with a languorous drive that chewed up the remaining time, until a dropped pass cut the drive short with nearly three minutes left. 

It was too little time for a methodical offense like that of Holy Innocents’, however. A few completions were offset by a quarterback sack and several key drops or deflections and time ran out without another score. 

The Bulldogs will be on the road next week at sixth-ranked Christian Heritage of Dalton as they enter the second round of the playoffs. 

Christian Heritage beat its first- round opponent, King’s Ridge, 38-0, on Friday night.

News Editor

Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.

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