Adairsville quarterback Cody Kremer scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard sneak, after his beautiful pitch-and-catch to Trey Gulledge, and Tigers running back Mike Upshaw shut the door on a potential Model comeback with a 53-yard TD run -- his longest of the night -- on his team's next possession.
Jim Kremer, Adairsville's third-year coach, credited a feisty Model team, which was celebrating its senior night.
"First of all, I don't want to take anything away from them kids at Model. I knew we were kind of getting set up, kind of, for a letdown. I thought we practiced pretty good in the week, but we weren't all that focused," Kremer said. "But you gotta give Model some credit, I mean, they played hard, and coach [Lynn] Hunnicutt had a nice plan defending us and I thought our offensive coaches did a good job at halftime in coming out and finding a few holes and helping us move the football."
Ahead by the slimmest possible margin at the break, the Tigers (7-1, 3-1 Region 7A-AA) turned to their workhorse back, Upshaw, who finished the game with 32 carries. The senior toted the ball on 10 of Adairsville's 12 plays to start the third quarter, including a 1-yard run -- coming after a 5-yard pickup on fourth-and-3 -- which capped a 5:43 drive and cushioned the Tigers' lead at 14-6 with 6:29 remaining in the quarter.
The Blue Devils (1-7, 0-5) responded in kind, needing just over two minutes to answer Adairsville's score. Backup QB Cameron O'Neal -- playing for injured starter Dustin Fincher, who left the game in the second quarter -- threw a fine touch pass to running back Chris Hill, who caught the ball -- which eluded the fingertips of a Tiger defender -- and burst up the left sideline to bring Model within two. O'Neal then found the Blue Devils' top target of the night, tight end Kirstin Gordon, on the two-point conversion to even the score at 14-all with 4:17 left in the third.
The two teams stayed knotted up through the rest of the third and into the fourth as they traded fumbles.
Following a turnover on downs by Adairsville, which ended with a 7-yard pass from Cody Kremer to Hiram Velez, the Tigers got the ball back when Zach Coker sacked O'Neal at the Model 11 on third down.
Beginning on the Blue Devils' side of the field, Adairsville faltered on a chance to strike ahead when Upshaw fumbled on third down after picking up more than enough yardage for a first down.
Model took possession on its own 23, and Hill rushed for 6 yards to the 29. Hill was called to duty again but was corralled by Austin Moore. Moore wrapped up Hill while managing to strip the ball from the runner to give the ball back to the Tigers as he lost some yards before being taken down at the Blue Devils' 39.
A false start penalty was followed by a 1-yard run by Kremer to set up second-and-14 from the 43. Adairsville, which hadn't gotten a lot of explosive plays from its passing game, benefited from a Model defense that had come to expect the run. Kremer, however, spotted Gulledge streaking down the middle and challenged defensive back Austin Price, who already had an interception on the night. Gulledge leapt for the perfectly placed ball, hauling it in at the 1 over Price. Kremer put the Tigers in front, 21-14, with 5:00 to go in the game.
The Blue Devils' ensuing drive saw Nakia Watkins gain 12 yards to the 47-yard line, but a couple of incompletions and a 3-yard pass to Watkins set up fourth-and-7 from the 50. O'Neal connected with Hill but Moore was right on the spot to make the tackle a yard shy of the first-down marker.
Taking over at its own 44, Upshaw got the call for Adairsville as he moved the ball out to the 47 on first down. The next carry went the distance as Upshaw sent Model fans to the exit with 2:43 to play.
Upshaw led the Tigers offensively, finishing the night with 218 yards and three touchdowns. Model's offensive leaders were O'Neal, who went 8 of 15 with 105 yards and a TD, Gordon (five catches, 59 yards) and Hill (three catches, 51 yards, TD). Watkins rushed for 58 yards and scored a TD on 14 carries for the Blue Devils.
Adairsville found itself in a battle with Model all night, especially in the first half.
The Tigers snagged an early lead on an Upshaw touchdown run from 4 yards out -- benefiting from a short field following the Blue Devils' turnover on downs -- but Adairsville could not pull away, even with its second possession beginning on Model's 30-yard line.
The Blue Devils drove the ball 70 yards down the field following a turnover on downs by the Tigers.
Nakia Watkins capped an 11-play Model drive with a 26-yard run on an inside trap play. Adairsville committed consecutive offsides penalties on the point-after touchdown attempt, which prompted the Blue Devils to go for the two-point conversion. Watkins, however, was stopped short of the end zone and Model trailed, 7-6, with 1:14 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers marched 67 yards on 10 plays and appeared ready to extend their lead, but the Blue Devils turned back Upshaw on fourth-and-goal from the Model 3.
Each team squandered additional scoring opportunities in the second quarter with Adairsville's Cody Kremer throwing an interception to Price and Ben Bolander being stopped inches shy of a first down on fourth-and-4 from the Model 34. The Blue Devils fumbled at the Tigers' 24 to kill their best scoring chance after their initial touchdown.
Jim Kremer expected to get Model's best shot right out the gate.
"They stopped us down there on the 2-yard line or the 1-yard line, and that was huge," Kremer said. "On any given Friday night, you've got to be ready. We've been seeing Model all yearlong play the first half real strong against everybody. With this cooler weather [and] with as many kids as they're playing both ways, you know, you're just not going to get tired. They [came] out ready to play four quarters tonight. I'm glad my guys responded, and we've done it a few times all yearlong ... just hanging in there in the second half and making some plays -- just enough to win the game."
With Rockmart headed to Tiger Stadium for Adairsville's next game, Kremer would like to see his team play more loose.
"It's almost like we're nervous. We're way beyond being [nervous]," he said. "At some point, we just gotta get out there and play our game and stop being afraid to make mistakes. I mean, if you practice hard during the week and you execute during the week, just play hard and you're gonna make mistakes and we move on. We made some mistakes tonight, but so did they and we just made fewer of 'em."
SCORING BY QUARTERS
1 2 3 4 F
ADA 7 0 7 14 28
MOD 6 0 7 0 14
ADA -- Mike Upshaw 4-yd run (Dakota Hines kick), 7:35
MOD -- Nakia Watkins 26-yd run (two-point conversion failed), 1:14
ADA -- Upshaw 1-yd run (Hines kick), 6:29
MOD -- Chris Hill 34-yd pass from Cameron O'Neal (Kirstin Gordon catch), 4:17
ADA -- Cody Kremer 1-yd run (Hines kick), 5:00
ADA -- Upshaw 47-yd run (Hines kick), 2:43
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yds 49-261 31-87
Passing yds 102 140
Comp-Att-Int 5-10-1 12-21-0
Total yds 363 227
Penalties 8-32 4-16
Fumbles-lost 2-1 6-3
Punts-yds 1-53 4-128
Rushing -- Adairsville: Mike Upshaw 32-218-3, Trey Gulledge 3-29, Tristin Smith 2-10, Ben Bolander 5-5, Cody Kremer 7-(-1)-1; Model: Nakia Watkins 14-58-1, Chris Hill 10-31, Dustin Fincher 3-13, Nakyle Watkins 1-(-1), Cameron O'Neal 3-(-14).
Passing -- Adairsville: Kremer 5-10-102-1-1; Model: O'Neal 8-15-105-1-0, Fincher 4-6-35-0-0.
Receiving -- Adairsville: Gulledge 2-77, Hiram Velez 2-17, Upshaw 1-8; Model: Kirstin Gordon 5-59, Hill 3-51-1, James Brown 2-18, Watkins 2-12.