By Alvin Richardson
Morgan County got off to a horrible start last Friday night as Oconee County took advantage of some early errors and bolted out to a 23-0 lead at the end of one quarter. The Dogs outscored the Warriors 22-7 the rest of the way but in the end it was too big a hole to climb out of. As a result the Bulldogs fell for the first time on the campaign to give them a record of 2-1 going into a rivalry game against an undefeated Putnam County team this coming Friday night.
MCHS defensive coordinator Brett Bell lamented that slow start. “We did not start the game in a manner that would help our team. We gave up too many explosive plays in both the run and the passing game. Even though we made mistakes early I was proud of the way our defense competed for the rest of the night.” Bell continued, “Brandon Smith made a huge play with the interception return for a touchdown to get us in striking range.” Like any coach after a loss Bell was gearing up for next week and noted, “Our main focus is to clean up the fundamental errors and use this loss to our advantage by learning from our mistakes and understanding that it is important to play a complete forty eight minutes.”
It didn’t take long for Oconee to get on the board. On Morgan’s second play from scrimmage a fumble in the end zone led to a safety and the Warriors took a 2-0 lead with just fifteen seconds elapsed. Oconee County then returned the ensuing free kick back to midfield and two plays later the Warrior tailback found running room off left tackle and darted 49 yards for a touchdown. The PAT was missed leaving Oconee with a 9-0 lead only 45 seconds into the contest.
It could have been worse for the Dogs. On the ensuing series, after a completed pass Morgan fumbled again and Oconee recovered but the Morgan County defensive unit played a good series and forced a 40 yard field goal try that was off the mark but things still continued to unravel for the Bulldogs. Late in the quarter Oconee’s sophomore quarterback Max Johnson (nephew of Mark Richt and son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson who led Tampa Bay to the XXXVI Super Bowl title) fired a pass and hit his receiver on a curl route. The Oconee wide out eluded Morgan’s secondary and scampered in a 47 yard jaunt to make it 16-0. To cap off a miserable quarter the Warriors hit a 46 yard bomb as the period ended when Johnson dropped a perfect pass over the shoulder of his receiver to make it 23-0.
Given those circumstances Morgan could have folded but they gamely fought back. Starting at the Oconee 46 the Bulldogs came through with a seven play drive that ended with a score. On third and five from the Oconee 30 Trey Patterson found Anthony Cooper on a slant route and Cooper gathered in the pass, yanked his leg away from the defender and found the end zone. The PAT was no good making the score 23-6 at the 5:04 mark of the second quarter.
Morgan’s Tre’mon Moore sacked Johnson and forced a fumble. Bralon Hill pounced on it at the Oconee 20 yard line and a minute and a half later Finn Williams connected on a 31 yard field goal to shave the lead to 23-9. Oconee had one more chance but Tre Davis spoiled when he blocked a 38 yard field goal attempt as the half ended.
When the third quarter opened Oconee looked like they were going to put a damper on the comeback. They methodically drove 73 yards to the Morgan County sevem. Two plays later they were at the one but the Bulldog defensive unit refused to yield and stopped Oconee dead on two straight plays in an old-school goal line stand. To make it better the Warriors were hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty giving the ball to Morgan at the 16.
The Dogs couldn’t make a first down but on the punt Oconee fumbled and the Dogs got possession at the 43. From there they marched 57 yards helped in part when the Warriors picked up another unsportsmanlike flag. One of the key plays on that drive came when Trey Patterson scrambled and found Tuke Robinson for 32 yards on third and 21. The other one came when Patterson found Cooper on a post route for 21 yards to the Oconee four yard line. On the next play Patterson hit Jordan Huff on an out route for six points. The try for two points was spoiled when the exchange went awry but Morgan had pulled to within eight points at 23-15 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
Oconee put a damper on the comeback with a 48 yard scoring pass on the ensuing series but Morgan wouldn’t fold. Early in the fourth quarter Oconee had a second an ten at their 45. Johnson threw to the flat but senior Brandon Smith sniffed it out, stepped in front and picked it off with nothing but green grass in front of him. Finn Williams booted the extra point and the Dogs had clawed back to within eight again at 30-22 with 10:16 left in the game.
But they couldn’t get any closer.
The teams exchanged punts and Oconee’s final possession began with 6:16 left in the contest. The Warriors put together a time-consuming drive and ran the clock out to held on for the 30-22 victory.
Morgan County hosts Putnam County this week in a non-region matchup. Game time is 7:30 at Bill Corry Field.
They play again in Athens in 2019 so I hope I’m around for that one and hope the UGA tickets aren’t that high then.