The Walton Raiders are advancing to the second round of the Georgia state playoffs for the third straight season under Coach Daniel Brunner! The 27-24 victory against Newnan High School ensured that Friday’s was not the final game of the season for the Raiders. The Raiders seemed to have wiped their earlier loss to the Bulldogs this season from their memory, fighting hard all the way to the finish of the game.
The Raider offense had its third straight game of scoring at least 20 points. The 27 they scored against the Bulldogs is made more impressive in comparison to the 7 points they scored against Newnan in the first matchup. Junior running back Kenny Djaha scored his fourth touchdown of the year midway through the fourth quarter, putting the Raiders up by 10 on an 18-yard scamper. One of the reasons Djaha has been so successful this year is his ability to change direction and break tackles. Multiple times in Friday’s game, when it looked as if Djaha would be tackled for a loss, he made a move to wiggle free and burst into the second level, running over defenders for extra yardage in the process. Senior running back Julian Bumper caught a 55-yard touchdown from Zak Rozsman in the second half, displaying his burst and elusiveness in the open field. Throughout the year, Julian has lined up at wide receiver to give the Raiders another threat on the field without having to rotate off other backs. After running free past his defender, Julian caught the ball downfield and faked out the safety to walk in for the touchdown and give all the momentum to the Raiders. After averaging only 14.2 points in the first five games of the season, the Raiders offense has exploded in the last half of the season, averaging 27.7 points in their last six games.
The Raider defense once again showed up to play in Friday’s contest, coming off a regular season in which they only allowed 18.8 points per game. Junior safety Austin Eldred had an outstanding performance, forcing two turnovers by himself, which included a pick six on the opening drive for Newnan. He also forced a fumble near midfield in the third quarter which the Raider offense turned into a touchdown. Eldred intercepted five passes in the regular season and forced two fumbles. Sophomore safety AJ Brown continued to have a big season himself, intercepting the Newnan quarterback off of a deflection to give him three on the year. Brown finished third in tackles for the Raiders this year. The Raider defensive coordinator entrusts a lot of responsibility to the young safety, letting him roam the field either in the box or playing deep coverage on receivers, and it has paid off.
Next Friday in the second round of the playoffs, the Raider defense will be asked again to step up against a formidable North Gwinnett team to advance to the next round.