The Alcovy Tigers continued to make history in just their second season Thursday night, when they bested Rockdale County 20-6 for their first ever Region 8B-AAAA victory.
"I've said what these kids have been through (is) unbelievable," Alcovy head coach Kirk Hoffmann said. "I've got to take my hat off to them, for the kids. For once it's starting to come together. We've still got a long way to go, there's no doubt about it, but we'll take it."
It was Alcovy's defense that started the scoring when Matt Gunnells broke through the offensive line early in the second quarter and recovered a fumble, rumbling 41 yards for a touchdown.
"(That play) lit a spark," Hoffmann said. "We weren't playing very well, and we were kind of lackadaisical. We were trying to find a spark and (Gunnells) gave it to us."
Alcovy (2-2 overall, 1-0 Region 8B-AAAA) took advantage of that momentum, holding Rockdale's (0-5, 0-1) following drive to five plays before forcing a turnover on downs. Gunnells played a key role once again with two tackles for losses on the possession.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," Gunnells said. "I've never had a game like that before. It felt good."
When the Tigers got the ball back, quarterback Ryan Ledford showed his versatility by rushing for 33 yards. He then found wide receiver Eric Strozier open on a fly pattern down the right side of the field for a 29-yard touchdown pass.
It put Alcovy up 13-0 with seven minutes and four seconds left in the second quarter.
Overall, Ledford was 5-of-12 passing for 55 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also added a team-high 61 rushing yards on 14 carries, including one touchdown.
Alcovy running back Malachi Outlaw added 35 yards on 11 carries, while Strozier led the Tigers with 39 receiving yards on two catches.
But Ledford was not particularly happy with his performance, saying that winning is what was really important.
"We didn't play our best," Ledford said of the Alcovy offense. "Personally, I started out slow and started to pick it up as the game went along. I ran a lot tonight, and when you're running you get hit and hit. But you just have to bounce back and do it, especially when the passing game is struggling like tonight."
Hoffmann agreed with Ledford's evaluation of the offense.
"Sporadic, not consistent but made the plays when we needed to," Hoffmann said. "I thought the drive (in the) third quarter was huge for us."
That particular drive was Alcovy's opening one in the second half that started when Outlaw took the kickoff at the 22 and sprinted 18 yards, giving his offense the ball at its own 40-yard line.
Alcovy then went on a long 14-play drive that took six minutes and 44 seconds off the clock. It was capped when Ledford took the ball into the end zone on a quarterback keeper from the 2-yard line. Terron McAdams added the extra point to increase the lead, 20-0.
Rockdale's offense struggled early. Quarterback Marquize Warren completed only 3-of-12 passes for 59 yards, but added 25 yards on the ground. Javon Lucas led the Bulldogs with 90 yards on 16 carries.
Still, Rockdale totaled 233 yards of offense compared to Alcovy's 164.
When Warren was replaced at quarterback by Isaiah Gresham on the last possession, the Bulldogs finally started to move the ball with their own 14-play scoring drive.
Gresham led the Bulldogs down the field, chalking up 32 yards on the ground and completing 3-of-4 passes for 30 yards. The drive included an 8-yard pass to Ryan Cullbreath, who appeared covered but out-jumped two Alcovy defenders, coming down with the ball for a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the game. The Bulldogs attempted a two-point conversion but were unable convert, keeping the score 20-6.
Alcovy has a bye week before visiting Salem on Oct. 12 at Evans Memorial Stadium.
"We need the break," Hoffmann said. "The kids have been through a lot. We need the break week as much mentally as we do physically."