At the sight of Shaun Diebel running through North Atlanta’s defense in the second quarter, spinning and reaching toward the end zone, there came hope, but just a flicker of it, for that hope was knocked loose and recovered by the Warriors. By then, it felt like an inescapable theme for the Bulldogs. Any sign of life was quickly extinguished by a fumble or penalty or missed field goal.
So there went Ryan Hintz up in the air to snag a fade pass by North Atlanta quarterback Jack Ballou, Hintz sprinting down the sideline into North Atlanta territory, another flicker of hope now gaining strength. It was enough hope for Central’s offense to manufacture the only touchdown of the game and escape with a 7-0 victory against North Atlanta on Friday.
Plagued by turnovers, untimely penalties and a stagnant offense, the Bulldogs survived on the merits of its county-best defense to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B. It’s the most wins for Central since 2009 when the Bulldogs went 4-6 with the help of two forfeits.
“We were able to find a way to win,” Central head coach Shane Williamson said. “Take nothing away from our defense. I thought they played lights out like they have all year long. We just turned the ball over, made some mental mistakes.”
“We played pretty well on defense,” Hintz said. “We came in here just rolling helmets out there just expecting to win, but they hit us in the mouth a little bit. Our defense played alright though.”
Indeed, Central held North Atlanta (1-5, 0-3) to just 91 yards of offense. Warriors running back Wyatt Hughes ran for just 12 yards on 12 carries. Ballou completed just 5 of 13 passes for 59 yards, threw two interceptions and was sacked by Central linebacker Pierce Nufer three times.
The Warriors moved the ball into Central territory just twice, and each time the Bulldogs forced a turnover – first on Hintz’s interception in the third quarter, then on an interception by Robbie Repasz on an errant deep pass by Ballou with 24 seconds left in the game.
Central looked nothing like the bruising running team that challenged then No. 4-ranked Kell in a close loss or shocked previously unbeaten Riverwood two weeks ago.
But in between the Riverwood win and Friday were two weeks of distractions. There was the bye week that coincided with the opening of the Cumming Country Fair & Festival. There was Homecoming Week and its teenage pageantry.
“It was definitely a weird type of combination,” Nufer said.
“Many distractions,” Hintz said.
Central seemed focused on giving North Atlanta chances early on. The Bulldogs lost four fumbles and missed a 40-yard field goal. More concerning was the penetration by North Atlanta’s defensive line that held Central to just 51 yards rushing in the first half.
“They’re strength is their interior defensive linemen,” Williamson said. “They have three huge guys. We feared that they would give us a problem up front, because we have three sophomores starting on the offensive line. Our fears came true.”
The fear started to dissipate on Central’s opening drive of the second half. Noah Aguirre returned the kickoff to North Atlanta’s 48. Running backs Sabrian Howard and Diebel ran the ball to the 28. Even after Diebel spoiled a long run with a fumble that North Atlanta recovered in the end zone, the Bulldogs’ confidence started to build.
“I think that was kind of a tone-setter,” Williamson said. “The offense saw that, ‘Hey, we can move the football.’ And then right after that we get a momentum [interception] with Ryan Hintz’s pick and then we’re able to kind of feed off of that.”
Howard and Diebel combined for a 10-play, 49-yard drive that Diebel finished off with a 3-yard score to give Central the 7-0 lead it never relinquished. The two rushed for 101 yards in the second half. Diebel finished with 74 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, Howard with 71 yards on 19 carries.
Central finished with the only outcome it wanted: a win.
“An ugly win is better than a loss any day,” Williamson said.