VARNELL -- The Colts went crazy on Friday night.
In its home opener, Coahulla Creek High School leveled their record to 1-1 by defeating a stubborn Southeast Whitfield, 34-31, in a wild shootout that matched the visiting Raiders' aerial attack against the Colts' inexorable rushing offense.
The win was the first for Coahulla Creek since nearly a year ago -- Sept. 14, 2018 -- a 35-7 victory over Murray County.
"It was our passing game against their running attack," said Southeast coach Sean Gray. Southeast senior quarterback Adam Sowder threw for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns, but "we couldn't stop the run."
"They have a big, experienced offensive line, and they just leaned on us," Gray added. "Hats off to Coahulla Creek -- they did what they had to do."
Coahulla Creek coach Caleb Bagley saw the game in a similar manner.
"We pounded the football, and we ran it in crucial situations," Bagley said. "Our run game is a team effort."
The combination of not only tailbacks Austin Hernandez and Titus Underwood, but offensive linemen, wide receivers, tight ends, fullbacks and quarterback Cade Bates were what helped the Colts in the long haul.
The Colts, who have now already matched last season's win total of one, simply had to "keep pounding and pounding," said Underwood, a junior who tallied one rushing touchdown Friday. "We knew we could run on them, and that's how we won."
To start the game, Hernandez shook loose from the Raiders defense for 38 yards on the first play from scrimmage -- he and Underwood's blasts into the road team's secondary would become a familiar sight Friday -- and the drive resulted in a 40-yard field goal by junior Angel Cabrera. However, the next 14 points would go to the visitors. Southeast seized the 7-3 lead with 50 seconds remaining in the opening quarter on a 72-yard touchdown pass from Sowder to Colter Long that stretched just beyond the fingertips of a leaping defensive back.
On the ensuing drive, the Colts appeared to have a screen pass set up perfectly on third down, but the only defender in the vicinity, AJ Miller, made the play to force a punt, and then ripped off a 10-yard gain on the first play of his team's drive. That drive ultimately ended with an interception deep in Colts territory by senior Andrew Painter, but that only delayed Southeast's second touchdown of the half.
After a punt by the Colts, Ethan Hill got behind the home team's defense on a third-and-seven play, and the 31-yard touchdown pass bumped the margin to 14-3 with 4:05 remaining in the half. The Colts refused to capitulate, however, as Hernandez carried his team around midfield, and then Underwood sprinted 54 yards for a touchdown with 2:28 left before the break.
Hernandez "has the strength," Underwood said with a gleaming grin after the game. "I have the speed."
The Colts forced a punt attempt, then were not fooled by a fake, and they took over at Southeast's 26. Underwood led them to the doorstep before a quarterback sneak by Bates from a yard out pushed the Colts ahead 17-14 with 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
That was more than enough time for the Raiders powerful passing scheme, however. Aided by a pair of penalties --including 15 yards for roughing the passer -- and a couple of completions, the visitors tied the game going to halftime at 17 with a 38-yard field goal by Luis Laguna.
On third down from Southeast's 14, senior wide receiver Ethan Burse worked himself open on the sidelines, and Bates hit him for the score, providing the Colts a 24-17 advantage with 5:35 remaining in the third. They continued to chew up clock and yardage on the ground, leading to a 30-yard field goal by Cabrera with 11:55 remaining in the game that made the score 27-17.
Southeast was on the hunt for a comeback, converting on a pair of fourth downs to keep their drive alive. A 5-yard touchdown pass to Hill narrowed the deficit to three with 5:32 left, but the Raiders couldn't stop the ground-and-pound attack of the Colts.
On fourth-and-short with 2:47 left, Bates converted with the ever-reliable quarterback sneak, then Hernandez bullied his way down to the 15 for a gain of 12 before rushing down to the 2-yard line on the next play. He then scored with 91 seconds remaining, pushing the Colts ahead by 10.
Even that couldn't quite subdue the Raiders, as Sowder scrambled for an eternity, running from one side of the field to the other and back, before locating Hill open in the back of the end zone on a fourth down play. Unfortunately for the Raiders, only 6.5 seconds remained, and when senior Zandr' Burse recovered the onside kick attempt, the Colts could finally claim a victory in the intra-county clash.
"This was a great game tonight," Gray said. "It's a great game for the county."
Bagley told his team, who gathered in the end zone moments after the final whistle, he was most proud of how they fought through the adversity of an early 14-3 deficit.
"We feel that is the last hurdle to overcome," he said. "We'll get some things cleaned up and be ready to roll next week."
The Colts will remain home next Friday as they host Adairsville at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The Raiders, who fell to 0-3 with the loss, will be idle until Sept. 20 when they welcome Cedartown at 7:30 p.m.
For the Raiders, who finished 3-7 a year ago, the game can be a learning experience, especially for a callow defense.
"We have four sophomores and a freshman on defense," Gray said. "They fought hard, and I'm proud of our kids."