By Eric L. McDonald
WINDER - It was Sweetheart Night at W. Clair Harris Stadium on Friday evening, yet the Tigers were the ones with the broken hearts as the Winder-Barrow Bulldoggs won, 23-7.
Alcovy (1-2) went three and out on its very first possession, so the Bulldoggs (3-0) decided to take advantage by establishing effective passing and running attacks.
With eight minutes and 36 seconds left in the first quarter, Winder quarterback Greg Dixon (14 of 23 for 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) led the charge with a 13-play drive to put the Bulldoggs deep into Tiger terrority.
But Alcovy held the opposing offense all the way at its one-yard line, until Dixon called his own number and ran it in for the first touchdown of the game.
"Alcovy has a lot speed, especially when they blitz," said Dixon. "They played hard and are good for a second-year school."
After a blocked field goal by Alcovy's Malachi Outlaw, the Bulldoggs led 6-0 with 4:41 remaining in the first quarter. Alcovy's offense then managed only a five-play drive, which resulted in a punt by kicker Tim Walsh with 2:23 in the opening quarter.
In Winder's next possession, Dixon completed a screen pass to Chastan Nelson (three catches for 63 yards and one touchdown) for 25 yards and a first down. Dixon found his rhythm by hitting wide receiver Taylor Bradberry (eight catches for 74 yards) with a 20-yard pass.
With 1:12 remaining, running back Brandon Finch (18 carries for 41 yards) took the handoff from Dixon and hit the hole for a 12-yard gain, putting the Bulldoggs at Alcovy's 21-yard line to end the first quarter.
Six minutes into the second, Dixon used the go-ahead pass play to Nelson (five carries for 45 yards and one touchdown) for a 21-yard touchdown catch. After the extra point by Jesse McGee, Winder led, 13-0.
During the next series, Alcovy quarterback Ryan Ledford hit wide receiver Eric Strozier for a touchdown; however, the official nullified the play, claiming Strozier did not have control of the ball.
"Things are going to happen," said Alcovy head coach Kirk Hoffmann. "We just have to keep playing, (and) that's all we could do."
On second down with five yards to go, the Tigers needed a spark to get back into the game. Alcovy defensive back Rodrick Tolen intercepted a pass and ran it to Alcovy's 20-yard line for a return of 44 yards.
Ledford (six of 12 for 97 yards and one interception) then got to work, hitting Strozier (four catches for 69 yards) for a 43-yard pass, setting his team up at Winder's 30-yard line. The Tigers continued their march on a 10-play drive to the four-yard line.
But on the last play of the drive, Ledford was trying to connect with Strozier on a go-ahead pass play but instead was picked off by Nelson, who took the ball to Alcovy's 47-yard line.
Nevertheless, the Alcovy defense stood its ground, forcing the Bulldoggs to attempt a field goal. McGee made a 39-yard field goal to make the score 16-0.
With only 28.7 seconds remaining in the half, Outlaw showed why he is one of the most dangerous running backs in Newton County.
On Alcovy's first play from scrimmage, Outlaw took the handoff from Ledford and rumbled 77 yards to the three-yard line. Outlaw concluded the drive with a three-yard touchdown run up the middle. After the extra point by Walsh, the Tigers were finally on the board, yet still trailing by nine.
Outlaw carried the ball five times for 95 yards in the first half. Overall, he led the Tigers with 128 yards on 12 carries, averaging 10.6 yards per rush.
"(Outlaw) is a great running back," said Winder-Barrow head coach Brian Allison. "He's only a junior? I don't think I want any part of Alcovy next year."
The Bulldoggs took possession to start the second half. But Winder again dominated the line of scrimmage, as it did in the first half, using an 11-play drive to the 14-yard line.
On the 12th drive of the series, Dixon fired into Alcovy's coverage but was picked off by defensive back Gary Wilkins. However, Wilkins then lost the football. Fortunately for Alcovy, linebacker Bryan Daniel came behind him and recovered the fumble, running it all the way to Winder's 45-yard line.
But soon after a key turnover deep in the Tigers' territory did it seal their fate. Nelson took the handoff from Dixon on a misdirection play in which he then scored on a 22-yard run. After McGee's kick, the Bulldoggs led, 23-7, with 2:55 left in the game.
The Tigers fell apart for much of the second half. They were in scoring position inside the 20 three times, yet could not put it in the end zone. In fact, Alcovy had negative 30 yards for the entire fourth quarter.
In addition, the Tigers also hurt themselves with 12 penalties for 112 yards in the entire game.
"Penalties and turnovers just killed us," said Hoffmann. "Those (are) just the signs of a young football team."