David Bruce asked for a spark.
Now the Veterans head coach has a fire.
After months of telling anyone who would listen that his team just needed one big win to jump-start the program, Bruce’s Warhawks collected a second big win in as many weeks with a 31-6 win over Rutland in GHSA Region 2-AAAA play Thursday at the Ed DeFore Sports Complex.
The Warhawks (2-3, 2-0 Region 2-AAAA) now sit on top of the region standings with wins over the Hurricanes and Westside, two of the teams projected to be in the playoff mix in the region. Veterans overcame losses to Warner Robins, Northside and Harris County to open the season.
“We’re battle-tested ... We’ve been out in the deep water,” Bruce told his team following the win. “We can swim.”
The Warhawks’ defense sacked Rutland quarterback Timori Northcutt seven times, returned one fumble for a touchdown and held Middle Georgia’s leading rusher Montez Cheney to 46 yards on 16 carries.
Like they did in the win over Westside, the Warhawks committed much of their defensive resources to the passing game, putting pressure on their front five to stop the run. Cheney rushed for more than 400 total yards in the Hurricanes’ previous two games, but he rarely saw opening running room Thursday with the Warhawks’ defensive line in the backfield for much of the night.
The defensive highlights came often.
Besides its seven sacks, Veterans stopped Cheney behind the line of scrimmage five times. Sophomore linebacker Matthew Hearst broke through the line and stuffed Cheney in the backfield on a fourth-and-1 inside Rutland territory. The stop led Veterans’ first touchdown. The Warhawks’ final touchdown came on a 10-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jamar Simmons with 3:40 to play.
“I thought our defensive line just played great,” Bruce said. “It’s hard to account for dynamic playmakers when they are spread across the field, so we had to devote most of the defense to the passing game. Because those guys up front played well, everything else worked out.”
The dominance of the defensive line was never more evident than on Rutland’s first possession of the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes got the ball at the Veterans 47 and moved it to the 32. By the time Rutland turned the ball over on downs four plays later, the Hurricanes were all the way back at their own 42.
The Veterans offense played efficient for most of the night.
The Warhawks led 10-0 following a 20-yard touchdown run by Ben Thomas following Hearst’s drive-killing tackle. After a three-and-out by Rutland, Logan Byrd found Nick Anderson wide open on a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Rutland scored its only points with 36 seconds left in the first half following a botched handoff by Veterans. Northcutt found Shakenneth Williams for a 9-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6, making the score 17-6 at the half.
The Warhawks put Rutland away with a long touchdown drive early in the third quarter. They marched into Hurricanes territory and looked to come away with three points on a Tim Yalcin field goal, but a Rutland penalty gave the Warhawks a first down. Keone Pearson scored on a 3-yard run on third-and-goal three plays later for a 24-6 lead.
“We want the pressure and the target on our backs because me and my guys can handle it,” Byrd said.
Rutland (4-1, 1-1) will need to regroup quickly. The Hurricanes still must play all of the region heavies: Westside, Baldwin and Mary Persons.