Cheerful celebration underneath the Victory Bell ensued after the Hart County High School football team dominated rival Elbert County 39-7 at the season opener in Hartwell, marking the Bulldogs’ first win over the Blue Devils since 2014.
“I’m extremely proud of our kids,” head coach Rance Gillespie said after the game. “We went down there last year and things didn’t go very well for us. A year later, I think it’s a total testament of the work that our kids have put in and how far our kids have come as a football team.”
Special teams units were firing on all cylinders for the
Bulldogs with two special teams plays resulting in touchdowns.
Hart County’s defense stood its ground all night as well, only allowing Elbert County to score a touchdown in the last three minutes of the game.
“We gave up some runs and we gave up a little bit of yardage, but when it mattered we were able to get it shut down,” Gillespie said.
After a goal-line stand on the opening drive, made possible by a second-down pass deflection and a third-down tackle for loss from junior defensive lineman Aiden Myers, junior defensive back Quin Moore blocked an attempted Elbert County field goal to give the Bulldogs their first of many momentum swings.
Junior running back Malachi Thomas carved up the Elbert County defense on the next drive, breaking a 56-yard run on a screen play to get the Bulldogs in the red zone. Junior tight end Cane Berrong barrelled his way into the end zone on a screen pass from quarterback Luke Lee for Hart County’s first touchdown of the night.
At the start of the second quarter, the Bulldog’s offense was stopped short of a score in the red zone and turned the ball over on downs. Hart County’s defense made a successful stop to follow and lit up Herndon Stadium when the punt team blocked a punt. Moore wasted no time scooping it up and running it in for a touchdown.
On the next offensive possession, Lee hit junior Jacobi Jones with a 39-yard pass to move the chains. The Bulldogs capped off the drive with a 13-yard pass from Lee to senior Preston Mewborn to go up 19-0 just before halftime.
It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to maintain pace in the second half. Montae Maxwell opened up the third quarter with a 88-yard kick return for a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion punched in by Lee to give Hart County a 27-0 lead.
Hart County’s defense stayed hungry too. Kaimon Rucker forced a fumble on the next Elbert County possession that was picked up by Corbin Burton. Rucker finished the game with two tackles for loss, one sack and two assists, while Burton accumulated three tackles, two assists and one tackle for loss. Levi Lystiuk racked up five solo tackles in the game, a team-high for the Bulldogs.
On the ensuing drive, Lee tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mewborn for his second touchdown of the night.
The Bulldog’s defense would come away with another stop on the next Elbert County drive.
Thomas found the end zone again on a two-yard rush before most of the starters were taken out of the game, putting the Bulldogs up 39-0.
Elbert County drove down the field and junior running back C.J. Tate punched in a touchdown for the Blue Devils with 2:26 remaining in the game.
Hart County is set to face Stephens County Friday in Toccoa.