CONYERS, GA - Rockdale running back Keijne Thomas ran for only 52 yards, but two of those runs produced two touchdowns as the Bulldogs withstood a fourth-quarter comeback and defeated the Salem Seminoles 21-14 on a balmy summer night at Reid Stadium.
It was a tale of two teams and two halves as the defenses dominated, and both offenses sputtered and failed to score in the first half.
"We had a lot of blown assignments in the first half on the offensive line," Bulldog coach Venson Elder said. "They played a little better. We got our spacing a little better and we were able to move the ball a little bit (in the second half)."
Both teams' punters got the most work in the first half as a series of miscues, penalties and turnovers stopped any momentum either team tried to establish.
The Bulldogs (1-0) had the best scoring chance in the second quarter.
Rockdale forced a punt and took over on its own 30-yard line with 7:36 to play in the half. Quarterback Kalil Dunn (9-20, 124 yards) hit wide receiver Tarjee Steele for a 15-yard gain. Running back Devon Williams (17 carries, 58 yards) ran 15 yards to the Salem 40-yard line. But, Dunn was picked off on the next play by Seminole cornerback Nijaron Brown to kill the drive.
Salem (0-1) received the ball to begin the third quarter and immediately went backwards.
Starting on its own 31, Salem was called for a holding penalty and a motion penalty on successive plays, leaving quarterback Gerald Walker (7-13, 27 yards) with a first-and-28 from the 11-yard line. Rockdale held them there, forced a punt, and took the ball in Seminole territory at the 49-yard line with 10:13 to play in the quarter.
Dunn was stuffed for a three-yard loss on the first play of the drive. But, an 11-yard completion and a five-yard run by Williams gave the Bulldogs a first down on the Seminole 36. On the next play, Thomas took a handoff, the offensive line opened a nice hole off right tackle, and, after putting a nice inside fake on a Seminole defender, he ran untouched into the end-zone to draw first blood and put Rockdale up 6-0. The point-after attempt was good, and the Bulldogs led 7-0 with 8:16 to left in the quarter.
After another three-and-out for Salem, Rockdale forced another punt, which Williams returned to the Seminoles 47-yard line with 7:04 to play in the quarter.
Three running plays put the ball on Salem's 38. Coach Elder decided to go for it on fourth-and-1, and he was rewarded as Kemani Pittman rushed two yards to keep the drive alive. On second-and-2, Dunn found Steele for a 35-yard reception to the Seminole 1-yard line. Salem held for three downs, but on the second fourth-and-1 of the drive, Thomas followed his offensive line and punched the ball in for a 13-0 lead at the 2:08 mark of the quarter. The PAT was blocked.
Rockdale scored again early in the fourth quarter. The two key plays were a 17-yard completion by Nunn to Steele, and a 17-yard run by Thomas to the Seminole 5-yard line. A nifty reverse by Bulldog star receiver, Tijuan (TJ) Warren, who had been held in check all night, put the Bulldogs up 19-0. A two-point conversion try was good, and Rockdale led 21-0 with 9:59 left in the game.
Salem, however, did not roll over.
Back-up quarterback Tristan Hernandez relieved Walker and immediately provided the spark that had been missing. On a 3rd and 13 play, Hernandez (7-7, 144 yards) rolled left and found wide receiver Kanome McIntosh for a 63-yard catch and run to the Bulldog 5-yard line. A five-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Willis closed the gap to 21-6 after the PAT failed.
Hernandez and the Seminoles would strike again.
Taking the ball at its own 10-yard line, Hernandez hit McIntosh (4 catches, 121 yards), for a 44-yard gain to the Bulldog 36. Six plays later from Rockdale's six-inch line, Hernandez followed left guard Davon Bigsby, and found the end zone. The two-point conversion was good, and Salem was within a touchdown 21-14.
However, the Bulldogs recovered the ensuing onside kick with 35 seconds left in the game. All Dunn had to do was take the snap, kneel down, and let the clock run out for the victory.
"We are proud (that the guys didn't quit)," Salem coach John Starr said. "I felt like we had some opportunities early and we didn't capitalize. We just got to be able to do that. They (Rockdale) made the plays when they needed to, and we didn't. But, we're still good."
Rockdale hosts Meadowcreek Friday at Reid Stadium, while Salem hosts county rival Heritage. Kickoff for both games is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.