After a low-scoring first half, things picked up offensively for each side as Cartersville and Pepperell combined to score 21 points.
"I thought things opened up in the second half," Dragons' coach Jeff Shiflett said. "I thought both teams played well (in the second half). The difference was they had two scoring drives where we had one."
Despite being shut out in the first half, the Canes changed that after exiting the locker room for the start of the second half.
Jamie Jackson picked up 14 yards on Cartersville's first play from scrimmage in the third quarter and added a 10-yard run to set up a second-and-four from his team's 48-yard line.
After Trey Graves' pass to Kendall Martinez netted a 2-yard loss, the Canes appeared ready to punt when Graves' pass to Beau Benefield went in and out of the receiver's hands.
However, a personal foul penalty on Pepperell led to a Cartersville first down, and Graves went back to Benefield, who made the most of his second opportunity with an 18-yard gain down to the Dragons' 20.
A couple plays later, Jackson gave the Canes a 6-3 lead when the senior running back leapt at the 5-yard line -- partially clearing a Pepperell defender -- and powered through to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown run.
Preston Slemp's extra point gave Cartersville a 7-3 advantage with 2:26 left in the third, capping an eight-play, 3:39 drive.
On its next drive -- its first of the second half ended with a fourth-and-eight at the Canes' 30 after nearly six minutes and 50 yards -- Pepperell benefited from a personal foul penalty as Cartersville had on its drive.
With a third-and-three from their own 37-yard line to start the fourth quarter, the Dragons' Corbin Arnold was stopped after a 2-yard gain, but Cartersville senior linebacker Aaron Foster was flagged for a late hit to keep Pepperell's drive going.
The penalty nearly seemed moot a play later when Jackson tracked down Dragons' running back Jamarian Harper to force a fumble at the Canes' 15 after a 31-yard run.
Cartersville's Devin O'Connor attempted to pounce on the ball but couldn't recover the potential turnover as Pepperell quarterback Kyle Henderson fell on the ball at the 11.
Following three stops by the Canes' defense inside the 10, including a tackle by O'Connor for no gain on third down, Arnold banged his way into the end zone for a 4-yard score on fourth-and-three.
Zach Tyree's extra point gave the Dragons the lead back (10-7) with 8:57 remaining.
Tyree's ensuing kick went out of bounds to give Cartersville field position at the 35.
When Graves pulled the ball to run on second down, he had enough green in front of him for a 20-yard gain, which had 15 yards tacked onto it following a late hit by Pepperell on the sidelines.
Jackson's run on the next play moved the Canes from the Dragons' 25 to 10-yard line.
A few plays later, on third-and-six, Jackson recorded his second score of the night, catching Graves' pass in the flat and sprinting up the left sideline for a 6-yard TD.
Slemp's extra point with 6:03 made it a four-point game, meaning Pepperell would have to touch paydirt to win.
The Canes were unyielding the rest of the way. O'Connor nearly picked off a pass on second-and-nine and forced Henderson into a short third-down pass to Arnold, which lost a yard.
On the Dragons' final series, Henderson followed a 5-yard completion to Caleb Freeman, which kept the clock running, with three straight incompletions, allowing Cartersville to sew up the win.
Facing a good offensive line, Canes' coach Frank Barden knew his defensive line would be put to the test. The coach was effusive in his praise of his defense's play afterward.
"Defensively, they played great," Barden said of his players. "We were in their backfield all night. We stopped a great rushing attack.
"I can't say enough about our kids and the effort they played with."
In the first half, with Pepperell trying to get star running back Janier Ferguson untracked, Cartersville held the Dragons to 66 yards rushing.
In fact, it wasn't until after Ferguson left the game -- he suffered an apparent injury on a 14-yard gain in the second quarter -- that Pepperell's running game really got going.
On the same drive as Ferguson's injury near the Canes' sideline, Pepperell inserted Arnold for a fourth-and-inches' play, which the Dragons converted.
Arnold got the ball four more times, and Tyree's 36-yard field goal gave the Dragons a 3-0 lead with 5:18 in the second quarter after Henderson's pass to Harper lost a yard on third down.
The Canes couldn't answer in the first half, but there were opportunities.
Slemp missed a couple of second-quarter field goals, including on a 27-yarder after Jackson's interception and 47-yard return gave Cartersville first-and-10 from the Dragons' 10-yard line. His other miss came from 44 yards out.
"We had some things (on offense) in the first half ... that we missed on," said Barden, whose team dropped three first-half passes and had a completion negated by a false start.
Even though they trailed 3-0 at halftime, the Canes would not stop pressuring and attacking Pepperell.
"That's the thing I love about these kids, they hung on," Barden said.
The game was the first meeting between the two sides since 2003, when the Canes beat Pepperell 41-12.
Cartersville (1-0) travels to Rome Friday to play Darlington (1-0) at 7:30 p.m.
1 2 3 4 F
PEP 0 3 0 7 10
CAR 0 0 7 7 14
PEP -- Zach Tyree 36-yd FG
CAR -- Jamie Jackson 15-yd run (Preston Slemp kick)
PEP -- Corbin Arnold 4-yd run (Tyree kick)
CAR -- Jackson 6-yd pass from Trey Graves (Slemp kick)
1st downs 13 8
Rushes-yds 40-180 31-166
Passing yds 59 22
Comp-Att-Int 9-19-1 3-11-0
Total yds 239 188
Penalties 4-50 6-60
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Punts-yds 5-153 5-222
Rushing -- Pepperell: Corbin Arnold 20-88-1, Jamarian Harper 9-67, Janier Ferguson 8-24, Caleb Freeman 1-3, Kyle Henderson 2-(-2); Cartersville: Jamie Jackson 11-87-1, Trey Graves 15-82, Charles Owens 1-0, Kendall Martinez 3-(-3), Team 1-(-3).
Passing -- Pepperell: Henderson 9-19-0-1-59; Cartersville: Graves 3-11-1-0-22.
Receiving -- Pepperell: Freeman 6-50, Dakota Ball 1-11, Arnold 1-(-1), Harper 1-(-1); Cartersville: Beau Benefield 1-18, Jackson 1-6-1, Martinez 1-(-2).