By the conclusion of West Laurens’ GHSA Region 2-AAAA opener Friday against Howard, Darius Bradford’s jersey had about a 3-inch rip on the back of his right shoulder.
After all the carries he had, it was almost surprising that there weren’t more tears.
“I have no clue (how it happened),” Bradford said. “Just hard running.”
Bradford put West Laurens’ offense on his back, rushing for 232 yards and two scores in a 21-14 win at the Ed DeFore Sports Complex.
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When the 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior needed an extra push for a first down, he got it, more often than not. And those pushes were needed in the fourth quarter.
After giving up back-to-back touchdowns off fumbles late in the third quarter, West Laurens (4-1, 1-0 Region 2-AAAA) put forth 12 straight running plays, with Bradford getting the majority of the touches, capped by Bradford’s 9-yard power run into the end zone.
He had plenty of help up front. He was able to gain yards on second and third efforts, grinding out extra yards after first contact.
“Our offensive line was outstanding; I thought they did a great job all night,” West Laurens head coach Stacy Nobles said. “Our kids ran the ball really hard. We’ve just got to fix the turnovers.
“You’ve got to win some ugly ones in region play, especially against a good opponent. I’m very thankful for that.”
Howard, which tried unsuccessfully to throw the ball deep much of the night, overcame a 13-0 deficit with the help of two West Laurens fumbles inside of the final five minutes of the third quarter.
After West Laurens quarterback Jalen Mack fumbled on a fourth-and-1 play deep inside Howard territory, the Huskies (4-1, 0-1) drove 75 yards on seven plays, with King finding Jerin Means from 32 yards out.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Bradford fumbled at his own 30. Howard scored two plays later on a 21-yard run by Antonio Jones.
The Huskies, however, weren’t able to come back a second time after Bradford’s fourth-quarter score. King threw three straight incompletions as the Huskies failed to convert on fourth-and-3 from their own 40, and Howard’s final drive ended with a punt following an 8-yard sack on second down near midfield.
King completed 10-of-27 passes for 82 yards with two first-half interceptions. He was 3-of-11 for 15 yards in the first two quarters, as Howard was held to three first downs during that stretch.
“We had opportunities early on, in the first half,” Howard head coach Barney Hester said. “If we would have scored in the first half, that would have opened up some things.”