By Brian Paglia
In the week leading up to its most important game in school history, Dutchtown understood its biggest challenge on defense would be minimizing explosive plays by No. 5-ranked Griffin. Facing the Bears the previous two seasons had taught Dutchtown how quickly a game's outcome could turn with one big play.
But the Bulldogs believed their defense had improved enough this season to prevent those game-changing plays. Coming in allowing just 6 points a game, Dutchtown was buoyed by its experience with nine returning starters and the confidence of an eight-game winning streak.
That all dissolved on Wantavious Washington's 74-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winner in the Bulldogs' 10-6 loss to Griffin at home Friday in a Region 3A-AAAA game.
Dutchtown (7-1, 4-1) certainly proved itself capable of playing at the level of a program with the pedigree and reputation of Griffin (8-0, 5-0).
The Bulldogs led 6-3 late in the third quarter on two field goals by Ryan Kay and had Griffin in third-and-one on its own 17-yard line when a decision by each team converged. Dutchtown blitzed on the outside. Griffin gave Washington the ball up the middle.
Washington had a clear path for the crushing score.
"You call a certain defense and sometimes they guess right in what you're doing," Dutchtown coach Jason Galt said. "He hit a seam and sometimes a great athlete makes a great play. That's what (Washington) did. He was able to squirm in there and go and made a long run. That was the game-breaker right there."
Until then, neither team's offense operated with any efficiency. Griffin had a slight 73-46 advantage in total yards at halftime. Dutchtown recovered a fumble by Griffin wide receiver Niles Daniel on the Bears 8 and got a 22-yard field goal from Kay. Griffin answered with a field goal. Kay kicked a 27-yarder on Dutchtown's next possession.
Washington broke out in the second half, rushing for 175 yards. He converted four first downs on the Bears final drive, which started at their own 5 with 3:43 left, including three third downs and a 55-yard run. Washington finished with 206 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
Dutchtown managed just 76 yards of total offense and was battered by the end of the game. Mychael Brown, the team's leading rusher, aggravated an ankle injury on the first play of the game and spent the second half on the sidelines on crutches. Starting linebacker Rodney Brown injured his hip and didn't play the second half. Starting linebacker Ryan Sponable left the stadium in an ambulance early in the fourth quarter after receiving a vicious hit on a punt return.
And yet the Bulldogs left encouraged by its performance. Encouraged that they had held Griffin well below its season average of 28 points a game. Encouraged that its first playoff appearance in school history was still within grasp. Encouraged that if not for one play, things might have been different.
"We just had one bad play that cost the game for us," Dutchtown senior Keneal Petgrave said. "Other than that, it was a good game."