ACWORTH — It won’t go down as Allatoona’s finest performance, but the Buccaneers will take the win.
Allatoona overcame four lost fumbles, 80 yards in penalties, a missed field goal and a missed extra point to beat Region 5AAAAA rival East Paulding 27-21 on Friday night at Cobb Energy/ Buccaneer Stadium.
The Buccaneers will take the ugly win over a third straight loss to the Raiders, who got the best of Allatoona to close each of the last two regular seasons.
“We obviously have to address some stuff,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said, “but we’re happy to get the win and hope to get better.”
Allatoona scored backto- back touchdowns in the first quarter and seemed to be getting into rhythm, but firsthalf mistakes prevented the Buccaneers from doing much more. Running back Russell Halimon had a 37-yard touchdown called back early in the game for offensive holding, and he also had another pickup of more than 20 yards negated for the same reason. Allatoona had first-and-goal on the 4-yard line in the second quarter and was pushed back 10 yards for holding before losing a fumble on the snap.
The Buccaneers also had another chance to score late in the first half, but they missed a 37-yard field goal.
“The first half was terrible,” Varner said. “We were lucky to be up 14.”
It appeared that Allatoona was going to pay for its missed opportunities in the third quarter.
East Paulding’s Tae Ray, who ended up with 137 all-purpose yards, caught a screen pass and ran 66 yards down the sideline on the second play of the second half to put the Raiders on the board.
After Allatoona suffered its third lost fumble on a pitch in its ensuing drive, Rae ran up the middle and through the Allatoona defense for a 32-yard score to tie the game.
Allatoona fumbled once again when Halimon lost the ball during a carry, but D.J. Wakefield picked the ball up and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to give East Paulding the lead with 7:29 left in the third quarter.
But to the Buccaneers’ credit, they didn’t implode, and the following drive ended up being the turning point of the game.
Allatoona had possession for more than 7 minutes of the third, and the opening minute of the fourth, before Halimon rushed 6 yards for a touchdown to tie it at 21-all.
Halimon went on to rush for 209 yards on 39 carries, in place of all-state running back Josh Bettistea, who was sidelined Friday night for undisclosed reasons.
Allatoona was penalized three times during a lengthy drive that started on its own 10, but the Buccaneers managed to get seven first downs. One came on a screen pass from Conner Larson to Halimon that went for 21 yards, and another was a 37-yard deep pass from Larson to Zach Nichols.
“That was the drive of the game, no question,” Varner said. “Had we not gotten any of those first downs, we wouldn’t have won. After the third quarter, we started running the ball with authority.”
Allatoona blocked an East Paulding punt for the second time and recovered the ball on the Raiders’ 24-yard line before Bryant Dallas scored the game-winner from 8 yards out.
After forcing East Paulding to punt on its next drive, Allatoona ran off the remaining clock.
“These were two good teams that played well, and Allatoona got after us,” said East Paulding coach Chuck Goddard, the former Wheeler coach and Walton assistant. “Our youth showed, but I am proud of the guys for scoring 21 to start the second half.”