The Pickens Dragons traveled to Ellijay on Friday night in hopes of defeating the Gilmer Bobcats, but the Dragons struggled through four quarters against its biggest rivals en route to a 17-0 loss, the first time Pickens had been shut out by Gilmer since 2009.
Gilmer won the opening coin toss and elected to receive to start the contest, giving the Bobcats a chance to rile up its home crowd with an early scoring drive. However, the Dragons’ defense did its job stopping the Cats this time, forcing a punt after four quick plays. Now with an opportunity to strike first, the Dragons’ offense hit the field poised to put up some points but faced the same fate as Gilmer, running just four plays before punting to the Bobcats’ forty-two yard line.
The Bobcats’ next possession saw the team move the ball effectively against the Dragons, but the drive ended with no points due to a missed thirty-nine yard field goal. Pickens then took over and began a promising drive that was quickly inhibited by a false start penalty, which in part led to the drive’s end after six plays.
Pickens did what it could to slow down Gilmer’s next drive, but the defense simply could not stop running back Tyler Bertolini. Bertolini took four carries for fifty-five yards and scoring on the last one, a four yard run that gave Gilmer a 7-0 lead with 10:33 left in the second quarter.
Now down by a touchdown, the Dragons’ offense returned to the field with an opportunity to close the gap on Gilmer. This drive looked promising for Pickens, but an interception by Corey Waters deep in Bobcats’ territory ended all hopes of scoring. Now pressed into action by the turnover, the Pickens defense took to the field and quickly bailed the offense out, forcing a fumble and recovering it on the Dragons’ twenty-five yard line with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The possession following the forced fumble would prove to be the Dragons’ best of the night, as the team gained seventy-three yards and were just a handful of yards away from evening the score at seven. Eventually, the drive would reach fourth and goal, which would see some confusion in the Dragons’ backfield, a two yard loss, and a turnover on downs. Gilmer then opted to run out the remaining thirty-six seconds on the clock, leaving Pickens down 7-0 at halftime.
Pickens opened the second half by receiving the quarter’s initial kickoff, but unfortunately it would not go as planned, as the Dragons would put the ball on the ground and allow the Bobcats to recover on the Dragons’ twenty-six yard line. Pickens looked like they caught a break when Gilmer gave them the ball back just two plays later, but it was not so, as Nathan Bradley intercepted Tanner Brumby’s pass on second and seven and promptly returned the ball all the way to the Dragons’ eighteen yard line.
Fortunately, the Dragons’ defense stood tall once again, holding the Bobcats at the goal line and forcing Gilmer to send out kicker Manny Lopez, who nailed a twenty yard field goal to put the Bobcats up 10-0 with 8:52 left in the third quarter. Needing a big scoring drive, the next series for Pickens saw the squad start from its twenty-four yard line and pick up three first downs on seven plays. While this drive looked like the one that the Dragons would finally score on, this turned out to not be the case, as the last two plays in the series saw incomplete passes and a turnover on downs just twenty-four yards from paydirt.
Gilmer started its next possession with a fifty-one yard run, but the Dragons’ defense buckled down after this big play, allowing just one more first down before shutting the Bobcats down on fourth and three, re-taking control of the football with 5:58 left in the third. Pickens then responded with a thirteen play, fifty-eight yard drive that had a great deal of potential; however, this potential was eliminated by a heads up play by Gilmer defender Austin Davis, who caught Tanner Brumby’s pass and took off down the field for a sixty-yard interception that gave Gilmer’s offense a critical red zone possession. The Bobcats utilized another Austin on the following play, as Thaddeus Bowers hit Austin Cole for a fifteen yard touchdown to give Gilmer a 17-0 lead with 11:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Despite such high hopes coming into this contest, the Dragons were unable to provide any points of their own, as the team’s two remaining drives ended on fourth down plays that failed to see the team reach the first down marker. Pickens did get the ball back with twenty-eight seconds left in the game after the Bobcats ran the clock to its satisfaction, but there was nothing doing on these last two quick plays. The final buzzer sounded after a first down run by Shannon Brooks, signaling that the Bobcats had won the game 17-0.
The statistics looked very favorable for the Dragons once the game was said and done, as the Dragons outgained the Bobcats 326 yards (214 rushing yards and 112 passing yards) to 284 yards (224 rushing yards to 60 passing yards). The overriding factor in this game was the turnovers: The Dragons gave the ball up four times, while the Bobcats only did so twice. Pickens was also hindered by poor execution on fourth down, as the team went 1-for-6 (16.7%) on these critical plays.
Tanner Brumby had a tough game against the Bobcats, finishing the outing with twelve completions for 112 yards and three interceptions. Brumby did his part in helping the Dragons’ rushing attack, taking sixteen carries for 47 yards.
Shannon Brooks helped the Dragons stay competitive offensively, finishing the game with 27 carries for 163 yards. Brooks also had three receptions for fourteen yards.
Carey Cunningham had a very nice game for the Dragons, reeling in four catches for 53 yards. Cunningham also appeared to have caught a pass from Brumby midway through the fourth quarter that would have given the Dragons a first down and helped Pickens continue its drive; unfortunately, the officials saw it differently and ruled Cunningham’s catch as incomplete.
The loss to the Bobcats leaves the Dragons with a 4-3 record on the season, putting Pickens in a dangerous spot as far as reaching the playoffs is concerned. Next up for the Dragons is a matchup with the Johnson Knights in Gainesville. The Knights are 2-6 and are coming off of a 13-9 loss to the Druid Hills Red Devils.