ATLANTA -- Dakota Sloan hardly came off the field, playing quarterback and defensive end and even punting.
The slugfest, a game played up front and between the numbers, was over.
And Sloan still had his legs and a full tank, enough to sprint off the field after the handshake line and do a Dome Dive, so to speak, launching himself into the arms of his father.
“They’ve been supporting me for so long,” Sloan said. “That’s my grandma, my momma and daddy. All my family’s here.”
Sloan helped a lot of grandmas, mommas and daddies and family have an unforgettable trip north as Hawkinsville turned in yet another smothering defensive performance to top Irwin County 15-6 in the GHSA Class A title game at the Georgia Dome.
The Red Devils’ final game of the season was like so many others. The offense saw what the defense was going to give up, and it got a little more.
In this case, the points came after two bad punt snaps by Irwin County and a safety on the kickoff to open the second half.
That came after the Indians converted a fumble into a touchdown and a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter, rare early points by Hawkinsville opposition. That would do it for Irwin County, and the Red Devils managed 15 points with only 95 yards of total offense.
“That’s the way we win football games, ugly.” Hawkinsville head coach David Daniell said. “Them guys on defense just battle and battle and battle, and we do enough on offense to get it into the end zone.”
Hawkinsville had some turnovers (three), but that just put the defense back on the field a little faster.
“The coaches knew, and we knew,” Sloan said. “They told us at the beginning of the season, ‘We’re gonna put all the athletes and best players in the best position on defense.’ What we were told all year, if a team can’t score, we can’t lose.”
Or if a team can’t score much.
“Our defense has played great,” Sloan said. “We caused turnovers when they were in bad positions. Our defense, we held them.
“The only score they had was off a fumble. They got good field position. Other than that, we played great; we as a team.”
Irwin County scored with 48 seconds left in the first and finished the quarter with 56 rushing yards and 63 in total offense.
The Indians gained 83 yards on the ground and 103 total the rest of the way.
The Red Devils tied it with 3:41 left in the half, going 33 yards after a bad punt snap by Irwin County.
A big play came on the opening kickoff, when Irwin County’s Cartavion Benyard touched the squib around the 20 and chased the ball backward, getting dumped in the end zone by Matthew Money and Keshun Wright for a safety and an 8-6 Hawkinsville lead.
“Our defense has given up, I don’t know, we average seven points, all year long,” Daniell said. “If we can just get to seven, eight (points scored), if I can get two scores on the board, I feel confident we can win.”
The Indians had spells of offensive success, only to either turn the ball over or get turned backwards.
Cal George came up with an early third-quarter interception on his team’s half of the field, Tyrus Davis recovered a fumble on Irwin County’s next possession near the end of the third quarter, and Warren Singletary Jr. ended an Indians drive by recovering a fumble at Hawkinsville’s 26.
Irwin County was teased that it might be able to come back.
“This year, it was just about keeping your composure,” said Singletary, who had nine tackles, third behind Wright’s 13 and Devin Adams’ eight. “Coming back from that semifinal (loss) last year, it was about keeping composure.
“We think we lost last year because of our composure. This year, we kept our composure throughout the whole season.”
And they did so in the biggest game of the season.
“I think this was probably the most evenly matched game,” Sloan said. “Their offensive line is probably one of the best in the state, and our defensive line is one of the best. They equalled each other, but I think we wanted it more.
“We got tired of being underrated; we got tired of being the underdog. We finally showed that we can strive through.”