By Brian Paglia
Henry County defensive back Dalvin Tomlinson came around the right side of the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter to an unlikely sight: An unblocked quarterback.
Those opportunities are rare for Tomlinson. Teams often employ two, and sometimes three, offensive lineman to keep the 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior from getting into the backfield. So, when he saw Jackson quarterback Ben Cawthon unprotected and unsuspecting as he looked to throw, Tomlinson salivated.
"I was thinking I'm finally going to get one in," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson delivered a punishing blow. The force of the impact from Tomlinson's hit brought Cawthon several feet off the ground. Cawthon completed the pass for an eight-yard gain, but he paid for it.
"That felt amazing," Tomlinson said.
Seven players later, Tomlinson sacked Cawthon on fourth-and-eight to end Jackson's best chance to score and put the finishing touch on a dominant defensive performance in Henry County's 14-0 victory over Jackson in a Region 4-AAA game Friday.
Tomlinson led an impressive effort by Henry County's defensive line that produced three sacks, two by Tomlinson and one by Berliegh Phillips, and disrupted Jackson's ability to sustain a rhythm on offense. Henry County (1-2, 1-0) had eight tackles for loss and held Jackson (1-2, 0-1) to just 114 yards of total offense.
"Anytime you have a goose egg up there, the defense is doing something right," Henry County coach Mike Rozier said. "The defense has been getting better each week. They dominated the line of scrimmage and (Tomlinson) seemed like he was making play after play. But there were a host of guys. It's a team effort there."
Indeed, aside from Tomlinson's eight tackles and two sacks, defensive back Ryan Thomas had nine tackles and defensive back Bryan Thomas had 12 tackles and an interception in the first quarter. Junior Chris Amos also added an interception.
Jackson moved the ball into Henry County territory just twice out of nine possessions. When the Red Devils threatened to score in the second quarter, moving to the Henry County 9-yard line, Cawthon overthrew Jarrett Watts in the endzone on third-and-10 and Kaleb Washington missed a 25-yard field goal attempt.
"I think our defense stepped up this week," Tomlinson said. "Our defensive line got through, got some tackles in the backfield. Linebackers stepped up and we had two interceptions."
Henry County had discovered its defense was playoff caliber through its first two games, but its offense needed vast improvement. The Warhawks came in averaging just eight points a game.
The Warhawks looked improved from the start Friday. Keilan Mann brought the opening kickoff to Jackson's 31 and Josh Couch (12 rushes, 64 yards) scored seven plays later on a 2-yard run to put Henry County up 7-0.
On its first possession after halftime, Henry County marched 64 yards in six plays, capped by a 41-yard touchdown catch by Mann from Chris Moody (76 rushing, 72 passing).
Henry County needed no more offense to get its first victory of the season and prevent the Warhawks' first 0-3 start since 2003.
"It's like getting a monkey off your back," Moody said. "Glad to get a win, especially since it was a region game."