Walton 44, North Paulding 24

Walton players take the field for their game against North Paulding on Sept. 29, 2023, at Raider Valley in Marietta. Walton won 44-24 to improve to 5-0.

Credit: Chip Saye

Credit: Chip Saye

Walton players take the field for their game against North Paulding on Sept. 29, 2023, at Raider Valley in Marietta. Walton won 44-24 to improve to 5-0.

Jeremy Hecklinski threw three of his four touchdown passes in the final 12:04 of the game Friday night in Marietta to help third-ranked Walton pull away from North Paulding for a 44-24 victory in a matchup of unbeaten Class 7A teams.

Walton, a state quarterfinalist last season, is 5-0 for the first time since 2018 as it heads into Region 5-7A play next week against No. 10 North Cobb. Walton lost to North Cobb 33-6 last year in the game that ultimately decided the region championship, and their rematch at North Cobb is likely to settle the title again this year.

North Paulding, which had allowed just 75 points in its first five games, fell to 5-1. The Wolfpack is off next week and will play its Region 3-7A opener at unbeaten Harrison on Oct. 13.

Walton controlled the game, at least statistically, from the start but led just 17-14 at halftime. North Paulding was able to stay close with two long touchdown passes from Tyler Niehr to Javarius George that covered 83 and 50 yards. Those two passes accounted for 133 of the Wolfpack’s 170 yards in the first half. Walton ran 50 plays in the first half to North Paulding’s 20 and had an advantage in time of possession of almost 10 minutes.

“I don’t feel like we dominated the first half,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “That’s a very challenging team. They were very good, and they were 5-0 for a reason coming into this game, and they battled. They took us out of what we wanted to do and really got us flustered there for a minute, and that’s the thing I’m disappointed in. We’ve got to be more disciplined in a game like this.”

North Paulding was still within six points after Aiden Noble kicked a 36-yard field to cut the lead to 23-17 with 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter, but Hecklinski gave the Raiders their first double-digit lead when he hit Cameron Loyd with a 61-yard touchdown pass two plays later to make it a 30-17 game.

Hecklinski threw two more touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, a 7-yarder to Jordan Bride and a 39-yarder to Hunter Teal with 3:40 remaining to put the game away.

“They’re a good football team,” North Paulding coach Don Stark said. “I think we’re a good football team, we just didn’t give them our best shot today. We made a lot of errors, a lot of mental errors. Hopefully we can fix them in practice so they don’t happen in a game.”

North Paulding’s Niehr threw his third touchdown pass, a 9-yarder to Calvin Scott, with 4:38 left. Neihr passed for 227 yards but completed just 10 of 28 attempts, was sacked for a safety and threw six interceptions, which Walton turned into 22 points.

Hecklinski was 23-of-43 passing for 375 yards and four touchdowns and ran two yards for a second-quarter touchdown. Loyd had 147 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, and Teal had seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Walton finished with 516 yards of total offense on 78 plays while limiting North Paulding to 292 yards on 47 plays.

Brunner’s concerns after the game were penalties - the Raiders were penalized 11 times for 114 yards - and injuries, notably to running back Makari Bodiford, who rushed for 52 yards on eight carries but did not play after the first quarter.

“We had a lot of guys dinged up,” Brunner said. “We had five or six starters out by the time the end of the game happened. We had a lot of guys that had to step up and make some plays. Fortunately they did.”

North Paulding - 7-7-3-7 - 24

Walton - 8-9-13-14 - 44

First quarter

W - Austin Williams 13 run (Makari Bodiford pass from Jeremy Hecklinski), 7:23

N - Javarius George 83 pass from Tyler Niehr (Aiden Noble kick), 6:35

Second quarter

W - Safety (quarterback tackled in end zone by Jake Thorner), 7:01

W - Hecklinski 2 run (Sebastian Banai kick), 4:07

N - George 50 pass from Niehr (Noble kick), 1:34

Third quarter

W - Hunter Teal 21 pass from Hecklinski (kick failed), 8:11

N - Noble 36 field goal, 0:53

W - Cameron Loyd 61 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 0:04

Fourth quarter

W - Jordan Bride 7 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 6:24

N - Calvin Scott 9 pass from Niehr (Noble kick), 4:38

W - Teal 39 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 3:40