POWDER SPRINGS — Walton used a strong first half to take control of the game and ultimately beat Hillgrove 52-35 on Friday in the Region 3AAAAAAA opener for both teams at Cobb EMC/Hillgrove Stadium.
The first half belonged to Walton (4-1, 1-0), which outscored Hillgrove (1-5, 0-1) by a 31-14 margin in the first half. That was enough for the Raiders to hold off the Hawks as the teams played to a 21-all tie in the second half.
Both teams were potent on offense, with Walton gaining 566 total yards and Hillgrove amassing 440.
“You had guys coming from everywhere,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “You had four players with 70-something yards rushing, you had big receiving nights. We had some mighty tall goals, and I think we hit them all on offense and we were darn near close.
"We still have a lot of things to clean up -- too many penalties, too many missed assignments on defense -- but, all in all, it was a good team game from all phases, and I’m just excited about where we are right now. We’re going to get back to work, but I’m excited to come out with a win.”
Sutton Smith rushed for 108 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the way for Walton.
After forcing Hillgrove to punt on the first offensive series of the game, Walton struck on its first play when Zak Rozsman threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Nate Lyons with 8:30 remaining in the first quarter to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Hillgrove came back and scored on the second play of the next series as Chase McCravy connected with Isaiah Rogers on a 67-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 7-all with 7:29 left in the first quarter.
Rozsman put Walton back ahead on the next series when he scampered 1 yard into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 14-7 with 4:29 to go in the first quarter.
Smith scored for Walton with 8:46 remaining in the first half when he ran 38 yards for the score to increase the Raider lead to 20-7.
Hillgrove responded on the next series with a 22-yard touchdown run by Teonte Reed to cut the Hawks' deficit to 20-14 at the 4:31 mark of the second quarter.
Walton answered on the next play with a 9-yard scoring run by Smith with 3:13 left in the first half and then finished the half with a 22-yard field goal by Lucien Michelin as time ran out to give the Raiders a 31-14 halftime lead.
The Raiders got the first two scores of the second half when Braylen Stokes broke open for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the third quarter with 11:47 to go to make it 38-14, and Jeremy Hecklinski threw an 18-yard scoring pass to Marcus Allen at the 7:40 mark for a 45-14 advantage.
Hillgrove came back to cut the Walton lead to 45-21 when McCravy threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Loyd with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Hecklinski’s 19-yard scoring strike to Hunter Teal with 11:31 remaining in the game boosted the Raiders’ advantage to 52-21, but Hillgrove got the last two scores of the contest -- the first on a 3-yard pass from McCravy to Rogers with 4:49 left, and a 3-yard run by Sean Cooper with 1:35 to go.