Langston Hughes proved to be too much for Rockdale in the Bulldogs' first playoff appearance since 2009 Friday night.
After a close first half, Langston Hughes scored 28 unanswered points in Rockdale's final two quarters of the 2012 season and won the first-round playoff matchup 37-3.
"We were playing them tough but they came back in the second half," Rockdale coach Venson Elder said. "Physically, we still have to catch up."
Langston Hughes came out fast in the first half, getting two points on a safety and picked up good field position on the ensuing kickoff. After a quick touchdown, the Panthers (10-0) went up 9-0 within the first five minutes.
After that, Rockdale (3-9) connected on a 35-yard field goal, but more importantly, shut down the Panthers' offense.
"I'm proud of the kids," Elder said. "If you could have seen the first half of the game, we busted them in the mouth on defense."
Leading the charge was Demonte Walters and Brandon Harris, who each had big sacks for the fourth-seeded Bulldogs.
Rockdale earned a playoff berth after beating Druid Hills a week ago showing improvement under its first-year coach, Elder.
Elder took over the Bulldogs after Michael Etheridge was let go from his football coaching duties following a 1-9 2011 season, and Mario Ellen, Etheridge's successor, was fired for ethical violations.
After being brought on in June, Elder took over a team that at one point lost 13 straight. The Bulldogs snapped the streak with a 9-0 win over Morrow on Sept. 28, and set their sights on a possible playoff berth.
With the postseason appearance, Elder will continue to work with the Bulldogs off the field in the offseason, starting in the classroom.
"We're going to work all the way through (the offseason)," Elder said. "We'll work on grades in the classroom and then I'll have them run track with me to get them faster and work on the speed, and then lifting weights four days a week."
The lack in strength training showed in the second half of Friday night's game as Langston Hughes' defensive line pushed around the Bulldogs' offensive front.
"We couldn't control the line of scrimmage," Elder said. "They were just too big and too strong. We have to get in the weight room and get stronger. We just don't have the size right now. To play in AAAAAA like this, you have to have a front line, that's what makes everything tick."
The Bulldogs showed a foundation with quality young skill-position players such as quarterback Zuri Minifield and wide receiver Tajee Steele, who showed flashes throughout a season, which included a 21-20 win over Luella and an 18-14 playoff-clinching victory in the regular season's final week.
"We have very high expectations but we have to look at it for what it is," Elder said. "We have some good skill kids with some great speed, and our offensive coordinator had some things ready, but until we can get a line, it's not going to work."