CUSSETA, Ga. -- Ninth-ranked Heard County used big play after big play and timely defensive stands to knock off Chattahoochee County 40-14 in a Region 5-AA clash Friday night at Panther Stadium.
The Braves had 16 offensive plays gain 10 or more yards and nine plays that covered 20 or more yards to finish with 515 yards of total offense. Leading the way was fullback Ta Freeland, who had nine carries for 66 yards and added three receptions for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
However, Braves coach Tim Barron -- whose team is off to its best start since an 11-0 run to open the 2006 season -- wasn't all smiles about his team's performance on the offensive side of the ball.
"We want to execute better on offense than what we did," said Barron, who has led the Braves to seven straight state playoff berths. "We have to be mentally ready out there and we weren't. (ChattCo) put a lot of guys in the box, and we were able to get some creases on them and big-play them. I'm disappointed we didn't execute better."
Heard County's defense came up big when the Braves needed it most, keeping the Panthers scoreless on three drives inside the Braves' 5-yard line. The Braves intercepted a pass and twice forced ChattCo to turn the ball over on downs.
"We've got to finish drives," said ChattCo coach Russell Morgan. "We played about as well as we've played all season in the first half and should've been down 14-7 at worst. But we didn't score, and that came back to get us."
ChattCo (2-3, 0-3) had some momentum early, stopping the Braves' opening drive on downs at the Panthers' 30 and then driving to Heard County's 3-yard line. However, on a fourth-and-2, ChattCo quarterback Chris Askew was stopped for no gain, and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
Heard County struck on its next possession, as quarterback Jonathan Hunt hit Freeland with a screen pass and Freeland raced 48 yards for a touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 11:29 to go in the first half. The Braves (5-0, 3-0) got their second touchdown on an 18-yard run by Tori Rogers to cap off an eight-play, 67-yard drive and took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
Despite having the ball for only 9:09 of the 24-minute first half, Heard outgained ChattCo, 209 yards to 73, behind 100 rushing yards and 109 yards through the air.
The Panthers had the momentum again at the start of the second half when the Braves muffed the kickoff, giving ChattCo the ball on the Heard County 43-yard line. However, Dilian Bradley picked off Askew -- Bradley's second interception of the game -- and two plays later, Duranta Dunson took a handoff and streaked 53 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0 with 9:59 to go in the third quarter.
ChattCo used a 43-yard run by Jodie Duke to get to the Heard County 18, and the Panthers got to the Braves' 1-yard line before again turning the ball over on downs after failing to convert on a fourth-and-goal at the Heard 1. The Panthers' defense got a score, though, as Ladarus Taylor scooped up Rogers' fumble and returned it for a touchdown to get ChattCo back to within 20-7 with 4:18 left in the period.
Heard responded with another big play on its next drive. Hunt hit Freeland with another screen, and he took it 60 yards for another score to give the Braves a 27-7 advantage with 3:30 remaining in the quarter.
The Panthers knocked on the door a third time, using a 37-yard run by Askew to get to the Braves' 5-yard line. But Askew aggravated a high ankle sprain he suffered two weeks ago against Bowdon, and he was forced to leave the game.
After a bad snap, backup quarterback Chris Smith was intercepted by Dunson to snuff out the scoring threat.
Dunson scored his second touchdown on a 30-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put Heard up 33-7, and the Braves cruised from there.
Friday at Panther StadiumHeard County 0 14 13 13--40
ChattCo 0 0 7 7--14Second Quarter
H--Ta Freeland 48 pass from Jonathan Hunt (Collin Nutt kick), 11:29.
H--Tori Rogers 18 run (Nutt kick), 3:11.
H--Duranta Dunson 53 run (Kick blocked), 9:59.
C--Ladarus Taylor 31 fumble return (Thomas Morgan kick), 4:18.
H--Freeland 60 pass from Hunt (Nutt kick), 3:30.
H--Dunson 30 run (Kick failed), 11:49.
C--Javaris Jones 93 fumble return (Morgan kick), 5:57.
H--Hunt 55 kickoff return (Nutt kick), 5:45
Records: Heard County 5-0, 3-0 Region 5-AA; Chattahoochee County 2-3, 0-3. Next: Chattahoochee County, home vs. Jordan, Friday, 7:30 p.m.