By Jimmy Stinson
COWETA – What do you get when you combine a season opener and a bitter rivalry game?
A great football game that is close and keeps fans from both teams on the edge of their seats and that is exactly what the fans received in the season opener for the Bulldogs of Wagoner and the Coweta Tigers.
The Bulldogs ended up with the victory and they can thank their defense for the 21-2 win against the Tigers.
It was the Wagoner defense that stymied Coweta and held the Tigers to under 100 yards in the first half, 147 for the game.
Defensive coordinator Nick Humphries was pleased with his unit's effort, particularly the play of the linebackers and secondary.
"It took a couple of weeks for us to get things lined out and I think some were doubting us, but our guys stepped up and played hard,” he said.
That defense was tested on several drives including the game’s opening march by the Tigers.
Wagoner withstood a 13-play drive from the Tiger 14-yard line and gave up 51 yards but stood strong enough to force a punt.
The Bulldogs scored on their second possession, taking only 54 seconds off the clock in three plays. Roman Rodriguez scampered 42 yards and added ten more to put the Bulldogs up at the Tiger 10.
On the next play, Lawrence Evitt took the hand off and started right, cut back left and outran the defense to the end zone for the 7-0 lead after Tanner Rolen’s extra point.
Wagoner dodged a bullet on the ensuing kickoff when Coweta’s Caleb Wheeler grabbed the ball at the five-yard line and scampered left then right and found the sideline for a 95 yard touchdown, but a holding penalty brought the ball back to Coweta's 29-yard line. The teams traded punts and a fumble but neither offense could find the end zone.
With Wagoner holding a 7-0 lead, Coweta received the opening kick of the second half and appeared to have found some momentum.
That momentum was derailed after six plays, when Devin Hawkins forced a fumble by Coweta's Ryan Fitzsimmons.
"I was just trying to make a play and get us some momentum," Hawkins said. "I saw the quarterback was carrying the ball kinda loose."
On Wagoner's second offensive play after the fumble recovery, Hawkins took the handoff on a trap play and rumbled 38 yards for the touchdown.
"I have to give credit to the line,” he said. “They blocked that play as well as you could and that allowed me to get in to the open and just run."
After initial contact at the line, Hawkins was not going to be caught.
Coweta was setup in good field position after Wheeler returned the kickoff to Wagoner's 39-yard line. But the Bulldog defense rose to the occasion.
Coweta moved the ball on the ground and through the air and thanks to two penalties, the Tigers were poised to score. Wagoner’s defense held and forced a fourth down pass play that fell well beyond the intended receiver.
"We got a lot of guys that play both ways and on a hot night like this, it's tough,” Wagoner coach Dale Condict said. “I'm proud of our guys for the way they finished.”