Bulldogs edge Cleveland, gain second place in region

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By Mike Goodson/Messenger Correspondent

With second place in Class 2A, Region 7 and a first-round home playoff game at stake, Gaston rallied past Cleveland, 35-28, on Friday at GHS. 

The Bulldogs will host a state playoff game on Nov. 7.

The fourth quarter saw the Panthers drive 85 yards in nine plays to take their first lead of the evening when Peyton Gilliland threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Eric Faulkner with 8:22 remaining in the game. Faulkner then caught the two-point pass after his touchdown to give the Panthers a 28-27 lead. 

Gaston took the following kickoff and drove 65 yards for the winning score. The 16-play drive was capped with a one-yard Mitchell Smith run with 24 seconds to play. A two-point conversion gave the Bulldogs a seven-point lead.

“Cleveland made a big comeback and we seemed to not be able to get anything to work on offense,” said Gaston head coach Swane Morris said. “Then we put that drive together at the end, and that was amazing. I was just so proud of them.”

Gaston (6-3, 4-2) capitalized on three Cleveland turnovers in the first half. 

On the opening kickoff, the Panthers (7-2, 4-2) fumbled the ball and the Bulldogs recovered on the Cleveland 10-yard line. Mitchell Smith punched it in on the next play with a 10-yard touchdown run and the Bulldogs led 7-0 with only 19 elapsed in the game. 

On Gaston’s first possession, the Bulldogs put together a 12-play drive that began on the Gaston 19 and was capped off with Smith’s 3-yard touchdown run. Smith finished with 113 yards rushing on 16 carries and four touchdowns. 

Gaston added to its lead with a 14 -yard, four-play drive with 5:09 to go in the first half. Jashun Cammeron scored on a three-yard run to give the Bulldogs a commanding 21-0 lead. His score was set up by a Cleveland fumble. 

The Panthers scored just before the break on a 14-yard run  by Gilliland. The PAT was blocked, however making the score 21-6 in favor of the Bulldogs at the half.

Cleveland found pay dirt on its second possession of the third quarter, driving 86 yards in eight plays to cut the Gaston lead to 21-14. Gilliland carried the ball five times on the drive for 75 yards including an eight-yard run for the score. He also completed a pass for the two-point conversion. 

Smith answered on Gaston’s next offensive play when he scored his third touchdown on a 59-yard run, giving Gaston a 27-13 lead with 4:04 to go in the third quarter. 

The third quarter saw Cleveland score once again, driving 65 yards in only four plays to cut the Gaston lead to 27-20 with 2:29 remaining. Gilliland fired a 22-yard strike to John Lauderdale for the score. The PAT was no good.

Gaston rushed for 268 yards and added 11 more passing for 279 yards in total offense. Cleveland gained a total of 371 yards in total offense, 258 rushing and 113 passing. Gilliland lead all rushers with 178 yards.

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