By Matthew Brown
ATLANTA – Coming off an offseason full of drama, it was only fitting to have a dramatic second-half full of subplots.
Overcoming the injury to starting quarterback Jaycee Harden in the third quarter, Daijun Edwards did his best production in a fourth-quarter non-scoring drive. The Colquitt County High football Packers didn't get any additional points, but didn't need any as the Mercedes-Benz Stadium clock wound down and Justin Rogers had his first victory in the first game of his new job Saturday. Harden was on the field to finish the contest, giving the ball to his senior star running back, but he did get a touchdown pass earlier in the 17-6 win over North Gwinnett High at the annual Corky Kell Classic.
The Packers were also able to win with a late addition to the roster, placekicker Jason Gallardo. And Gallardo was every bit a factor in the victory in all of his duties, be it touchbacks on every kickoff, two made PATs and a 36-yard field goal on his first attempt ever at three points. Not a bad replacement for the best kicker ever in high school football, Ryan Fitzgerald.
Edwards rushed for 59 yards, but 35 were during the game's final series on eight rushes. He scored a five-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to end a scoreless deadlock.
Harden completed 10 passes in all for 124 yards and a 52-yard touchdown strike up top in a one-play second quarter drive. Montavious Ponder hauled in the pass to earn those six points.
The Packer defense was, for most of the game, the classic bend-but-don't-break. The unit under new coordinator Shawn Campbell created two turnovers. Most importantly, however, is that North Gwinnett did not get a first down in two fourth-quarter possessions after making a third-quarter field goal to account for the final score.
Devin Crosby, Bulldog running back, gained 57 yards rushing while quarterback JR Martin completed 16 of 25 passes for 126 yards. Highly-touted receiver Josh Downs caught nine footballs for 76 yards.
Two other interesting numbers for North Gwinnett were seven third-down conversions on offense and four offsides penalties on defense, this during the first half.
Though there was no scoring in the first period, the Packers were manufacturing a drive after Omarian Daniels, cornerback, forced a fumble when DJ Hart caught a pass on Colquitt's 37-yard-line. Biron Silas recovered on the 38.
There was a holding penalty to deal with, but the Packers steadily moved into Bulldog territory. Harden established a groove with a first-down slant caught by tight end Carter Boatwright and a crossing route taking by sophomore Tajh Sanders for 14 yards and first down. Junior Lemeke Brockington, last season's leading receiver, grabbed the next completion, absorbed a hit, and added 10 yards to the play on the NG 5.
That ended the first quarter. Edwards cut outside and scored to begin the second quarter. Gallardo converted his kick for 7-0.
Colquitt's defensive front put Martin under a lot of duress, which included a sack from linebacker Ty French. There wasn't great punting shown for most of this game, and the Bulldogs kicked the ball back to the Packer 48.
It was from there that Harden and Ponder connected to help increase the lead to 14-0 at 9:02 of the quarter.
North Gwinnett responded with four of those third-down conversions in a 17-play drive. Three of those firsts were on catches by Downs, who was open to give his team 1st-and-goal on the CC 9.
Due to stops by Nathan Bell and Callon Kubiak plus a near interception by Antonio Spradley, the Bulldogs settled for the field-goal try. Andrew Lim made the 26-yarder, but NG took almost eight minutes off the clock. The designated home team even got the football back prior to halftime, but they could not get a third-down or even fourth down conversion thanks to the play of Taveon Tuff on Downs.
In the third quarter, Packer fans saw the impact of North Gwinnett junior linebacker Barrett Carter. He kept Colquitt from getting a first down to start the second half, and the punt went to the NG 43. However, they tried a reverse play and bungled it big-time. Bell, who missed all of last season to shoulder problem, picked the loose ball up and went 25 yards to the NG 11.
The jubilation didn't last long, for on a third-down play Barrett sacked Harden, who hit the turf hard. He was able to get off the field under his own power, but it was obvious he would need more time to recover. It wasn't all bad news, for Gallardo split the uprights for that 36-yard debut field goal.
A familiar sight was next, the Bulldogs holding onto the football for play after play after play. They snapped it 12 times to get five first downs from one 20-yard-line to another. But with Laquavioun Hayes chasing Martin out of bounds for lost yards, it was field goal time again, a 41-yarder made with 2:39 left in the third period.
Rogers went with sophomore Zane Touchton at quarterback to close out the quarter, but the Packer offense ended up going in the wrong direction. Tucker Pitts punted the ball to the NG 38 to start the final 12 minutes, and it was all about Colquitt's defense from there. French and Silas stopped Martin short on 3rd-and-2.
Though the Packers got possession back, it was another 3-and-out. Pitts put forth his best punting effort, though, to the Bulldog 24. French and Kubiak proceeded to send the opposition in the opposite direction, and Nyquann Washington saved the day saving a fumbled punt return on the 45.
Harden returned to run the offense, and Edwards got his best holes from the offensive line of center Terry McCoy, Conner Gay, Devante Jamerson, Thomas Barry and the only returning starter, tackle Remon Young. Harden was even 2-for-2 in the air with a first-down grab from Boatwright.