It was a game of two halves.
Dadeville head coach Roger McDonald knew homecoming would be a distraction for his team but Lafayette threw in a few wrinkles too. The Bulldogs also brought size to Dadeville and McDonald had been preparing his team for a physical battle all week.
“I told them No. 22 (Willie Baker) is good,” McDonald said. “I’ve been watching him since he was in the ninth grade when he played at Valley. I told them you have to get after him and tackle him. I think we got a little intimidated by him and their size in the first half. You know we gave up some touchdown passes and the reverse.”
In the end though the Tigers would pull in the 15-12 last minute victory over Lafayette.
McDonald had prepared his team for Lafayette’s Joshua Combs getting the ball on the reverse, but in the first half, Combs slid around the Tiger defense on two different occasions on the play for 22 and 20 yards. Bulldog quarterback Zae Towles found Combs for a touchdown pass of 15 yards and he also found Vinay Singh for a 17-yard score.
Lafayette pretty much dominated Dadeville in the first as the Tigers only mustered 42 yards to the Bulldogs’ 171. The Tigers went in at halftime down 12-0.
McDonald and the Tiger coaches made a few adjustments, especially defensively. But the coaching staff didn’t let their players get down.
“We told the kids at halftime, ‘If y’all won’t quit, we will wear them down and beat them in the 4th quarter,’” McDonald said.
The Tigers came out a different team in the second half amassing 178 yards of offense with a balanced attack of Ja’Vunate Holley and Christian Nelson carrying the ball and quarterback Lane Smith finding Philstavious Dowdell and Gauge Daniel.
Nelson carried the ball 10 times for 37 yards.
In the second half Smith would find Dowdell for a 47-yard score, giving Dadeville its first points on the board just with just less than six minutes left in the third quarter. After converting the PAT, the Tigers would be down 12-7.
McDonald’s halftime pep talk to the Tigers worked. Dadeville held Lafayette to 69 yards in the second half. McDonald attributed the first half difficulties to Lafayette playing well and the Tigers’ heads not being in the game.
“It’s hard on homecoming because of getting focused,” McDonald said. “It was a physical game. They showed up and played. On the films I saw, that is by far the best they have played up front on both sides.”
Holley mustered 62 yards on 19 carries including the game-winner with less than a minute to go. Smith would roll out on a play action-bootleg for the two-point conversion.
McDonald said his Tigers learned they have to get back on the practice field and work on things despite the win.
“We have to get better,” McDonald said. “They did some things to us. They had some athletes, those linebackers stunting, things we had gone over and were a little different than we expected.”
And there were a few Tiger mistakes too.
“We had a couple of fumbles and we could have scored another time but we got caught in the wrong grouping down there and had 12 men on the field,” McDonald said. “A lot of it I attribute to homecoming. I knew we weren’t focused all day.”
In the end though McDonald and the Tigers will celebrate a little and he will look to see how to mend the team for the next game at Goshen next week.
“What a game, we beat them at the last second,” McDonald said. “Our players played hard. It was a hard-fought game.”