For the perennial state-power Colquitt County Packers, there’s a new coach but the same winning result against a familiar cross-state rival. In Justin Rogers’ debut, the Packers defeated the North Gwinnett Bulldogs 17-6 on Saturday as part of the 28th edition of the Corky Kell Classic hosted at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The No. 2-ranked Packers (1-0), last year’s Class AAAAAAA runner-up, won handily for Rogers, who comes from Jones County following long-time coach Rush Propst’s firing. Propst was dismissed in March after it was revealed he violated numerous standards of the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators.
“(The win was) pretty important because if not we’d be talking about something else,” said Rogers, who went 45-15 in five seasons at Jones County. “It was a relief to get off to a good start and the biggest thing is it wasn’t for me, but for these young men. People forget about how much they’ve been through ... they needed something good in their life.”
The Packers used a smothering defense to hold AAAAAAA’s No. 8 Bulldogs (0-1) out of the end zone for the second time in as many meetings. They beat North Gwinnett 45-0 in last year’s quarterfinals to avenge the Bulldogs’ 19-17 win over them in the 2017 championship game. They were led by senior quarterback Jaycee Harden, who was knocked out of the game in the third-quarter but later returned for the team’s final drive.
Harden said it felt good to get the victory and shift the conversation from the scandalous offseason back to what the Packers do best: win football games.
“I think people are going to realize that this program ain’t gonna stop,” said Harden, who finished 10-of-17 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown. “Coach Rogers is a great guy, and we’ve got his back more than ever. And y’all gonna catch us in the state championship in December.”
The Packers opened the scoring early in the second quarter on Daijun Edwards’ 5-yard run, capping a 10-play, 65-yard drive in which Harden was 4-for-5 passing for 57 yards. The Bulldogs would punt on their next possession, and the Packers’ first play on their ensuing drive was a Harden strike over the middle to Montavious Ponder that resulted in a 52-yard touchdown. That gave the Packers a commanding 14-0 lead with 9:02 remaining in the half.
With 9:09 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs attempted a double handoff that was fumbled in the backfield and recovered by Colquitt County’s Nathan Bell, who returned it 17 yards to the Bulldogs’ 11. The Packers would go three-and-out after Harden was sacked for a 9-yard loss and temporarily knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms, but the drive ended in a Jason Gallardo 36-yard field goal that put the Packers up 17-3 with 7:33 left in the third.
The Bulldogs’ offense was stymied all night and their nine drives produced four punts, two lost fumbles, a turnover-on-downs and two Andrew Lim field goals, one from 26 yards and the other from 41 yards with 4:54 remaining in the third, which brought the score to its final margin.
Orion Bonner led the Packers with eight tackles, and Tye French and Biron Silas each had a sack. Omarion Daniels and Zy Brockington each forced fumbles, and Silas and Bell each recovered fumbles. Edwards — a 4-star recruit with scholarship offers from schools that include Auburn, Florida State and Georgia — finished with 59 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
The Bulldogs were led by North Carolina-commit Josh Downs, who caught nine passes for 76 yards, and Devin Crosby, who rushed 21 times for 74 yards. JR Martin was 16-of-25 passing for 126 yards. Class of ’21 4-star Barrett Carter, who holds offers from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia among others, led the defense with six tackles and 0.5 sacks.
The Packers have their only bye of the season next week, while the Bulldogs host Armwood (Fla.), the No. 7 overall team in the state according to the FloridaHSfootball.com rankings.
North Gwinnett 0 3 3
Colquitt County 0 14 3
C — Daijun Edwards 5 run (Jason Gallardo kick)
C — Montavious Ponder 52 pass from Jaycee Harden (Gallardo kick)
N — Andrew Lim 26 FG
C — Gallardo 36 FG
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Lemeke Brockington as Colquitt County’s kicker.