DACULA – West fell just short in a thrilling 36-31 loss to Dacula on Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs at Barron Field.
The Wolverines had a chance to win the game late. After a 13-yard touchdown run from Trevor O’Brien with 2:02 left, Alex Askew recovered an onside kick to give West one last shot.
The first play of the drive was a pass to O’Brien that picked up 22 yards down to the 28-yard line. But after a sack and a couple incompletions, Dacula escaped with the win.
West finished its season at 7-4, while Dacula (7-4) advanced to play No. 4-ranked North Gwinnett, a 34-10 winner over Milton, in the second round.
"Our guys never quit," West coach Frank Hepler said. "We played a great football team, but our guys just came up short in the end."
The rain contributed to a sloppy start. There were three turnovers in the first five possessions.
Dacula took an early 7-0 lead on a punishing 2-yard touchdown run from Bijon Sirleaf that came after West’s punter fumbled and was tackled on his own 2-yard line.
On Dacula’s next drive, quarterback Aaron Grove threw it up for grabs and was intercepted by West’s Jordan Harris at the Dacula 39-yard line. That was Grove’s only pass attempt in the first half, and he only attempted two the entire game. But West was unable to capitalize and fumbled it right back two plays later.
Early in the second quarter Hampton McConnell found Grant Anderskow for an 8-yard touchdown pass on a middle screen to tie the game at 7-apiece. However Anderskow appeared to be severely injured on the play. The action was stopped for nearly 20 minutes as Anderskow was carted off the field and the ambulance arrived.
"Our doctor hasn’t heard anything yet," Hepler said. "We need to make some phone calls and see how is, but we’re praying for Grant and I think he’s going to be OK."
A 29-yard field goal from Timmy Hartshorn tied the game at 10 with under a minute left in the first half, but the Wolverines evidently left too much time on the clock.
Two plays later, Kelan Fraise broke a 72-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 17-10 and seized the momentum going into halftime. Fraise finished the game with six carries for 107 yards to go with that touchdown.
West opened the second half by forcing the Falcons to go three and out. The Wolverines then marched down the field on an 11-play, 63-yard touchdown run that took up about half of the third quarter. The drive ended with a 5-yard touchdown run from McConnell.
With the score tied at 17, Dacula responded immediately with a 65-yard touchdown run from Sirleaf for his second touchdown of the game. Sirleaf finished the game with 14 carries for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
On West’s ensuing drive, McConnell was hurt and did not return to the game after a run that got inside Dacula’s 5-yard line. O’Brien ended up punching it in on fourth-and-goal to tie the game at 24 late in the third.
O’Brien did everything he could to help will his team to victory, carrying the ball 23 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
"It just came down to the last second," O’Brien said "We tried our hardest but they came out victorious."
The Falcons’ rushing attack was the key to their victory. They tallied 391 yards on 45 carries.
It was a heartbreaking ending but the 2013 campaign was still successful won for the Wolverines, who have now made it to the playoffs four straight seasons, and Coach Hepler likes the direction his program is headed.
"We had a great season, I’m excited for the future," Hepler said. "We have a real good nucleus coming back next year. The kids here have a lot of pride in what they do. They are a never-say-die bunch of kids."
"It was a remarkable season," O’Brien said. "Everyone doubted us, but it was still a good season."