Allatoona turned the ball over four times and Kell took advantage, scoring 17 points off the miscues, en route to a 31-17 victory in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs at Cobb Energy/Corky Kell Stadium.
The Longhorns (11-0) remained undefeated on the season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. They will host Region 6AAAAA runner-up Mays next week.
“Allatoona is a very physical team and they had our number with their offense early in the game,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “Turnovers really were the difference in this game, and I’m glad we were able to get what we did out of them.”
Allatoona (7-4), which lost its third straight game to finish its season, outgained Kell 164-35 in the first half, but it went into halftime tied at 10-all.
Kell’s James DeMatto recovered a fumble on Allatoona’s first possession, deep in Buccaneers territory, and Cameron Massung converted it into a 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Bryson Armstrong intercepted Conner Larson’s pass on Allatoona’s next possession. Three plays later, Cameron Rosendahl found Julian Burris for a 24-yard touchdown and a 10-0 advantage.
Allatoona’s mistakes weren’t limited to turnovers. The Buccaneers also committed costly penalties that took points off the board.
After Burris’ touchdown reception, Allatoona used a 13-play, 8-minute drive to set up third-and-goal at the 2. Josh Bettistea short run got the ball to the 1, but back-to-back 5-yard penalties moved the ball to the 11, and a bad snap on Arty Wollschlager’s 27-yard field-goal attempt kept the Buccaneers off the scoreboard.
Allatoona’s defense stepped up, forcing Kell into two straight punting situations. Larson’s 36-yard completion to Russell Halimon eventually set him up for 4-yard touchdown, trimming Kell’s lead to 10-7 with 1:07 in the half.
The Longhorns’ didn’t run out the clock, and a fumbled punt gave Allatoona first-and-goal at the Kell 1 with 12 seconds on the clock.
But once again, the Buccaneers failed to capitalize. Their second sideline warning resulted in a 5-yard penalty, and instead of trying for the touchdown, Allatoona had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Wollschlager to knot the contest at the intermission.
“Allatoona can punish you,” Cook said. “They ran the ball right at us. They’re a great football program, but I can’t say enough about our guys and their effort. We got some drives going in the second half and forced some turnovers because we started playing physical.”
Allatoona opened the second half on a 13-play, drive that resulted in a blocked 27-yard field goal.
Rosendahl was 5-for-6 for 62 yards as Kell marched 80 yards on its ensuing possession, and he capped the drive with a 19-yard scoring strike to Taylor Henkle to go ahead 17-10.
Bettistea nearly evened the score with a 63-yard touchdown run on Allatoona’s first play from scrimmage, but a block-in-the-back penalty negated the run, and the Buccaneers went on to commit another fumble — their third turnover of the game.
On Kell’s very next play, Dyllen Reed ran untouched for a 63-yard touchdown that put the Longhorns in front 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.
A fumbled snap led to Allatoona punting from deep in its own territory, and Kell needed only five plays to move 41 yards as Jay Moxey scored from 3 yards out for a 31-10 lead.
Moxey rushed 21 times for 101 yards on the night.
Allatoona drove to the Kell 16 on its next possession, but a Longhorns defender forced a fumble following a completed pass, and Henkle recovered to end the Buccaneers’ scoring opportunity.
Kell converted two first downs on its final drive, and a fumbled snap on a fake punt led to Halimon’s 3-yard touchdown for the final score of the game.
Bettistea rushed 28 times for 143 yards and Halimon had 18 carries for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
“The best team won,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said succinctly after the game.
Rosendahl was 8-of-15 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Burris had three catches for 63 yards and a score, while Henkle had two receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown.
“We’re going to have to play better in some areas down the line if we want to win in the next round,” Cook said.