By Brian Paglia
ALPHARETTA -- The breaks came far too late. The 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the onside kick recovery. The third-down conversions and the defensive stops.
By that time, the worst-case scenario for Dutchtown was a foregone conclusion. By that time, No. 6 Chattahoochee had already amassed 401 total yards of offense against the top defense in Class AAAA and handed the Bulldogs a 37-14 season-ending defeat Friday in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Chattahoochee (13-0) will play Statesboro, a 17-7 winner over Kell, in the semifinals. Dutchtown finishes the season 11-2, the most wins by a public school in Henry County history and by far the best season in school history.
Those were the accomplishments players tried to grasp onto in the immediate aftermath of the Bulldogs' most lopsided defeat of the season. They tried to recall all the dominating defensive performances of the season -- the three shutouts in the regular season, the back-to-back shutouts in the first two rounds of the playoffs, including the stunning 15-0 upset win at Thomas County Central -- instead of the mechanical way in which Chattahoochee's offense operated.
"We got higher than any Dutchtown team's ever been," Dutchtown senior Shaun Nichols Jr. said. "Pretty much one of the best teams in Henry County ever. We played our hearts out and all I can be is proud."
Said senior defensive lineman Keneal Petgrave:"We had the most wins in Henry County. We had the No. 1 defense in the state. All I could ask for is that (state championship) ring, but this year was a really special year, one I'll probably tell to my kids and grandkids. It was a really special year."
Dutchtown's relentless blitz was neutralized by a Chattahoochee offensive line that averaged 275 pounds. With ample time in the pocket, Cougars quarterback Tim Byerly completed 10-of-20 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Kane Whitehurst (five catches, 86 yards, two touchdowns), including a 62-yarder on the second play of the third quarter to put the Cougars 21-0.
But Dutchtown coach Jason Galt said it was Byerly's work on the ground that confounded the Bulldogs' defense. The senior had a 32-yard run to Dutchtown's 11, which set up Whitehurst's 11-yard run to put Chattahoochee ahead early 7-0 in the second quarter. Two possessions later, Byerly scrambled for a 26-yard gain to the Dutchtown 7. Byerly hit Whitehurst for a 6-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars up 14-0 just before halftime.
Byerly rushed for 87 yards on 11 carries, accounting for 259 yards of total offense.
"(Byerly) killed us with his feet," Galt said. "He could break containment. He had some nice runs early. ... I think his play is what hurt us tonight."
Dutchtown started the game with a 12-play, 65-yard drive that took over five minutes off the clock, but senior kicker Ryan Kay missed a 32-yard field-goal. The Bulldogs didn't move into Chattahoochee territory again until the third quarter, when quarterback Wendall Long finished off a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Leaphart to cut Chattahoochee's lead to 21-7.
But that was the highlight for the Bulldogs, who rushed for 222 yards, led by senior Mychael Brown (16 carries, 88 yards).
"We moved the ball at times," Galt said, "but we didn't get the touchdowns that we needed to."