NASHVILLE -- After struggling to put together a complete performance from the opening kickoff to the final whistle in their first two games of the season, things finally came together for the Smyrna Bulldogs on Friday night.
A strong start, a relentless rushing attack and a stingy defensive effort helped the Bulldogs (1-2, 1-0 D1-6A-Region 5) pick up their first win of the season with a 34-14 road victory in their first regional matchup against the Overton Bobcats (0-3, D1-6A-Region 5).
Senior running back Zereoue Johnson led the way, rushing for 165 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, helping the Bulldogs jump out to a 17-0 lead by the end of the first quarter in the process.
“We always talk about starting fast, getting things going early, and it felt great to be able to do that tonight,” Johnson said. “We feel like we’re getting better and better every day.”
Johnson, who didn’t play much before this season and battled through injuries over the years, is making the most of his opportunity to shine on both sides of the football in his senior year.
“‘Z’ has come a long way. He’s a tough kid, bided his time and he’s done a great job for us,” Smyrna coach Matt Williams said. “It was really nice to take the ball on the first drive and score — something we’ve been on the wrong side of the last couple weeks.”
The Bulldogs defense also played a big role in the victory, with junior defensive back Jamir Eaton setting the tone early on with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown with 8:03 left in the first quarter, just seconds after Johnson’s opening score. Smyrna held the Bobcats to 168 yards of total offense for the night.
Still, it was far from a perfect game for Smyrna. Early in the second quarter, Bulldogs quarterback Tavien Tigg threw a pass that was intercepted by Overton’s Michael Martin and returned 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Bobcats on the board.
While turnovers have been an issue for the Bulldogs this season, Friday night was an improvement. After committing four turnovers in a loss to Centennial last week, they turned the ball over just twice against Overton. In the Centennial game, Smyrna fumbled the ball four times and lost two of them, but on Friday night the Bulldogs didn’t fumble once.
“We’ll always take a win, especially after a rough start to the season,” Williams said. “We ran the ball really well and played well defensively, but we did turn the ball over a couple times. But we’ve gotten better and better since Week 1 and that’s all that matters.”
While Overton struggled to gain traction against the Smyrna defense, there were flashes of brilliance from the Bobcats’ talented receiving corps. In the third quarter, senior wide receiver Santawan Cross took a short pass from quarterback Dawayne Jackson, juked a defender and dashed 60 yards into the end zone.
But those big plays were few and far between, and a barrage of penalties and inconsistent play bogged any hope for Overton.
“We didn’t play four quarters of football tonight and there’s just a lot of stuff we can improve on,” Overton coach Cole Peeples said. “There were some positives — we did have a lot of young guys stepping up and making plays — but we made too many dumb penalties, too many missed tackles and mistakes. We’ve got to be more consistent.”