Douglas County head coach Johnny White knew his Tigers were going to be in for a four-quarter fight when they traveled to south Fulton to take on Langston Hughes.
White knows the area well. He was head coach of perennial playoff contender Creekside for three seasons (2009-2011). Friday night, his team met the challenge.
Douglas County (5-0, 3-0 in Region 5-AAAAAA), ranked No. 8, erased a 10-point deficit in the second half and made a big play late to stun No. 7 Hughes (3-2, 1-2), 30-27.
“I just needed our team to believe in themselves, and fight,” said White, who in his second season at the helm, has the Tigers at 5-0 for the first time since 2002, the last time the program won a region championship. “I know south Fulton. I knew those boys over there were going to fight. I needed us to fight back, and we did.”
Trailing 27-23 with 2:14 left in regulation, Douglas County took over on downs at its own 25 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Marqueese Collins rolled to his right and hit Dariyan Wiley in stride down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. The Hughes secondary busted the coverage to that side of the field, and Collins and Wiley played pitch-and-catch perfectly.
“He made the plays when we needed him to,” White said of Collins, who missed a couple of open targets and held the ball a little too long on some plays. “All of that doesn’t matter because when we needed him to step up, he did.”
Hughes got the ball back on its 39 yard line with a little less than two minutes remaining. But on the first play from scrimmage, after faking a jet sweep, Panther quarterback Jacquez Milam and running back Christian Royalston – who was brilliant most of the night – muffed the handoff on a trap and Douglas County recovered.
The Tigers ran four running plays and turned the ball over on downs to Hughes. The Panthers moved to midfield but Milam was sacked on the last play of the game, sending the Douglas County sideline and bleachers into a frenzy.
“This is the biggest win for this program, since I’ve been there,” White said. “This game added two years to my life.”
On the other sideline, Hughes head coach Willie Cannon said he will look to his seniors, like Royalston, to hold the team together.
“Hopefully our senior leadership will step up. We have another game next week that we have to get ready for,” Cannon said. “We’ll see if we want to battle for a spot in the playoffs, or just get through the season.”
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Tigers drove inside the Hughes 40-yard line on the first possession of the second half, but turned the ball over on downs. Hughes took over and needed just five plays to drive 71 yards, with Royalston covering the final two to give the Panthers a 20-10 lead. On the touchdown run, Royalston was hit in the backfield, but broke the tackle to scoot into the end zone.
The Tigers struck right back after Uriah West returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Hughes 33 yard line. Four plays later West barreled in from six yards out to narrow the gap to 20-17.
Douglas County seized the momentum by recovering a pooch kick on the kickoff at the Hughes 37 yard line. Four plays later West scored on a 23-yard run to give the Tigers the lead, 23-20, after the point after kick was blocked.
The teams exchanged three-and-out possessions before Royalston struck again. The lightning-quick, but deceptively-strong scat back zipped through the middle off the line and outran the Tiger secondary for a 70-yard touchdown – his fourth of the night – to put the Panthers back on top, 27-23, entering the fourth quarter.
Douglas County 10 0 13 7 30
Langston Hughes 0 14 13 0 27
DC – Xavier Hopson 35 interception return (Diego Huerta kick)
DC – Huerta 26 fg
LH – Christian Royalston 32 run (Zidane Bogle kick)
LH – Royalston 12 run (Bogle kick)
LH – Royalston 2 run (kick failed)
DC – Uriah West 6 run (Huerta kick)
DC – West 23 run (kick blocked)
LH – Royalston 70 run (Bogle kick)
DC – Dariyan Wiley 75 pass from Marqueese Collins (Huerta kick)