CONYERS — Outside of two long runs, the Rockdale County rushing attack was stagnant for much of first half against Alcovy Friday night.
With Connor Mack held to just 21 yards rushing on six carries and Jaionte McMillan held to 31 yards on two carries, the Alcovy defense appeared to have the Bulldogs’ rushing attack figured out heading into halftime tied at zero.
That changed in the second half to the tune of 168 yards rushing with 117 coming from Mack. The Bulldogs’ newfound life rushing the ball, mixed with timely stops on defense, was enough to propel them to a 21-14 victory over the Tigers, giving them their first 2-0 start to a season since 2014.
The victory also exacts revenge for the Bulldogs following their 25-19 overtime loss to the Tigers last season at Sharp Stadium.
“We had a goal to beat Alcovy tonight, but our goals can not supersede our purpose,” Rockdale head coach Jamie Baldwin said. “Our purpose is to be a good fundamental football team. We knew that we had some unfinished business with Alcovy. We have some other unfinished business on our schedule this year also. Our guys step up when our backs are against the wall.”
Mack finished the night with a game-high 138 yards on 22 caries and scored one TD, giving him back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances to start the season in his first year as a full-time starter.
As a team, the Bulldogs finished with 214 yards rushing. McMillan added 77 yards on 10 carries while QB Chandler Peters rushed for five including two TDs.
“It was really my offensive line, I give all the glory to them,” Mack said. “They turned it on in the second half. We’re a second-half team. When our backs are against the wall, that’s when we perform at our best. We just have to learn how to turn it on in the first and second quarter and we’ll be a threat. I promise you that.”
All-in-all, the Tigers managed to out-gain the Bulldogs in total yards thanks to their final two drives of the night. Of their 289 total yards of offense, 103 came in the final 5:24 of play. The Bulldogs finished with 238 yards of offense.
The Bulldogs’ defense sacked Alcovy sophomore quarterback MJ Stroud six times on the night and held him in check through the air. Stroud finished his night 11 of 31 for 142 yards and one interception. He managed to rush for 59 yards while Andrae Robinson rushed for a team-high 71 yards on 15 carries.
With the loss, the Tigers have lost eight games in a row.
“We moved the ball in the first half, we just didn’t finish,” Alcovy head coach Jason Dukes said. “That was our issue last week and continues to be our issue. We would get the ball in the red zone and not be able to punch it in. That was disappointing and that is something that we have to fix. In the second half, we continued to move the ball, but finishing was still an issue for us. We’re still a team trying to learn how to finish.”
Stroud and the Tigers offense did not get off to the best start on their opening possession of the game after the sophomore was promptly intercepted by Rockdale’s Kenne Hill on third-and-11. Stroud attempted to hit wide receiver Jamel Johnson on a slip screen, but the route was undercut from the Bulldog defensive lineman, giving Rockdale a first-and-10 from the Alcovy 32-yard line.
Mack nearly gave the Bulldogs a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line following a 25-yard run on second down, but a holding penalty negated the play and backed the Bulldogs back up to the Alcovy 37.
Facing a third-and-21, Peters completed his first pass of the game to senior Noah McGlockling, who gained 12 yards down to the Tiger 31. Electing to go for it on fourth-and-9, Peters’ pass fell incomplete on a ball intended for McGlockling.
On the Bulldogs opening possession of the second quarter, a 31-yard McMillan run moved the chains and gave the home team a first down from the Alcovy 49-yard line. The Bulldogs, however, were later forced to punt after a 15-yard personal foul on third down backed them up to their own 40.
With a chance to gain some much-needed momentum, the Tigers did just that on the ensuing possession. A good mix of runs and passes gave the Tigers’ offense four first-down conversions, two of which coming on third down.
Stroud connected with Robinson on a 15-yard catch-and-run to convert the Tigers’ first third down before Stroud converted a third-and-six with his feet down to the Bulldog 19-yard line.
Inside the red zone for the first time in the game, three consecutive stops by the Bulldogs defense forced the Tigers to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the 15-yard line. Stroud dropped back to pass, but misfired on a ball intended for Robinson down the seem.
Another stop by the Bulldogs’ defense did not translate into points for their offense, however. The Bulldogs were quickly forced to punt with 2:30 remaining in the half after going three-and-out on three straight rushes.
One last opportunity to score for the Tigers fell by the wayside in the final 2:20 as a quick first down converted to the Bulldogs 37-yard line did not come back to rue for the home defense. The Tigers later punted, ending the first half in a tie at zero.
The Bulldogs ended the first half with a mere 58 yards of offense while the Tigers finished with 130.
After winning the coin toss and electing to differ, the Bulldogs started the third quarter on offense, but were immediately intercepted by the Tigers. Peters’ pass was picked off by JaQuez Snell, his first of two on the night.
The Tigers and Bulldogs traded punt attempts on their next two possessions, but it was the Bulldogs who made the first costly mistake of the game. A dropped punt attempt from Bulldogs’ punter Kaleb Baldwin led to a turnover for the home team, setting up the Tigers with a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
One play later, the Tigers were celebrating with its first offensive touchdown since Week 4 of last season after Tra Perry bounced into the end zone for the score. A successful point after gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter.
A stagnant Bulldogs’ offense showed no signs of backing down on their next possession, though and quickly got things started inside Tiger territory following a long kickoff return from Darren Stephens.
The Bulldogs converted four first downs on four consecutive plays to start the drive and later scored on a Peters’ 1-yard keeper. The duo of Mack and McMillan combined to rush for 38 yards on the drive.
A failed point after attempt, however, kept the Tigers in the lead, 7-6 with 4:48 remaining.
The Bulldogs’ defense used the momentum provided by their offense and quickly forced the Tigers to punt after only three plays of offense. Nijay Willis and Ed Pollard shut the door on third-and-three with a sack of Stroud to force the punt.
Setting up shop at their own 42-yard line, Mack got things started with his longest run of the night, a 30-yard gain through the teeth of the Tiger defense. Mack then followed up with a 16-yard rush, pushing the Bulldogs into the red zone.
Facing a third-and-5 from the Tiger 7-yard line, a 4-yard rush from Mack forced the Bulldogs into decision mode trailing by one point. The Bulldogs elected to go for the short fourth-and-1 and converted it with Peters, who scored his second rushing TD of the quarter from three yards out.
Originally set up to attempt an extra point, an offsides penalty against the Tigers changed the mind of Baldwin and company. Instead, the Bulldogs elected for a 2-point conversion try which was successful thanks to a 2-yard run from Mack, giving the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Of the 12 plays ran for the Bulldogs on their two third quarter TD drives, 11 were runs. Of those 11 runs, Mack rushed five times for 74 yards.
“We got the blocking where we needed it to be and added in a few tweaks here and there,” Mack said. “We just made the best out of the situation that we were in. I continued to do what I had to do and I trusted them.”
Trailing for the first time in the game, The Tigers’ offense answered back with three first downs on their ensuing possession. Set up with a first-and-10 from the Bulldog 21-yard line, a gain of zero from Robinson was followed up with back-to-back incompletions from Stroud, forcing a fourth-and-10.
Looking to keep the drive alive, a pass attempt from Stroud on fourth down sailed incomplete, giving the ball back to the Bulldogs.
Looking to take a two-score lead, two third-down conversions, including a third-and-8 pass from Peters to McGlockling set up the Bulldogs with a first-and-10 inside Tiger territory.
The drive ended, however, with Peters’ second interception of the night after Snell ripped a pass intended for McGlocking away at the Tiger 6-yard line. A completion would have given the Bulldogs a first-and-goal.
With a chance to get back into the game, the Tigers fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, setting up the Bulldogs’ third TD of the second half. With 118 yards rushing on 19 carries, Mack’s 20th carry of the night gave him his first TD of 2019 and the Bulldogs a 21-7 advantage with 5:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“My hat goes off to the defense,” Baldwin said. “They did a great job game planning for Alcovy this week. We still missed some tackles in the backfield, but for the most part, we game planned very well. (Robinson) did a great job keeping Alcovy in the game. We did a great job keeping (Stroud) moving around and scrambling.”
The Tigers found the scoreboard for the second time on the night with 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter when Robinson scored from seven yards out. With Rockdale’s lead cut to 21-14, the Tigers got one last chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but watched as the clock expired on the Bulldogs’ 41-yard line.
Willis finished with two sacks on defense from his outside linebacker position. The junior commended his defense's performance Friday, but said their celebration will be short-lived.
“We just stayed calm and executed as coach told us to do,” Willis said. “We work on that in practice all the time and we get it done. We’ve been pretty happy with the way the defense has played, but we’re trying to put it behind us because we have to take it one game and one play at a time to be successful.”