East Paulding’s explosive running game turned out to be a little better than Allatoona’s.
Kamani Thomas and Kyler Neal combined for 242 yards and three touchdowns rushing as the Raiders beat Allatoona 25-7 to claim the Region 5-AAAAA championship in a battle of unbeaten teams Friday at East Paulding’s Boneyard.
East Paulding completed its second 10-0 regular season in school history and earned the region’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs, which begin next weekend. East Paulding will host Clarke Central, the fourth-place team from Region 8-AAAAA. Allatoona (9-1, 9-1), which lost a regular-season game for the first time since 2010, will host Heritage-Conyers in the first round.
The two running-based teams entered the highly anticipated regular-season finale ranked in the top 10 in Class AAAAA in scoring offense and scoring defense, but it was East Paulding that got the better of it on both sides of the ball.
Thomas, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards this season, ran for 129 yards on 22 carries. He gave the Raiders the lead for good with a 17-yard touchdown run with 1:04 to play in the first quarter on the Raiders’ first possession.
Neal ran 12 times for 113 yards, with a 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 10-yarder in the third that made it 20-0.
Quarterback Mitchell Webb added 54 yards on eight carries as the Raiders outgained Allatoona 301-54 on the ground.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” Webb said. “We just wanted to establish the running game and dominate them. And we’ve had a great defense all year long. It’s always been our backbone, having a strong, sturdy defense.”
Allatoona’s two 1,000-yard rushers were limited to 72 yards on 24 carries. Sophomore Josh Bettistea led the way with 46 yards on 11 carries, while T.J. Herron had 26 yards on 13 carries. The Buccaneers lost 18 yards rushing on four sacks.
The Buccaneers’ struggles on the ground forced them to turn to quarterback Jeremy Uzee more than usual. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 158 yards, although much of it came late when the game was no longer in doubt. His 15-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Soleberry with 3:33 remaining in the goal spoiled the shutout.
“It’s amazing,” Webb said of the region title. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It’s something I’ve always wanted.”
Allatoona – 0-0-0-7 – 7
East Paulding – 7-6-7-5 – 25
E – Kamani Thomas 17 run (Miles Hemphill kick)
E – Kyler Neal 48 run (kick failed)
E – Neal 10 run (Hemphill kick)
E – Hemphill 37 field goal
E – Safety (ball snapped out of end zone on punt)
A – Clarence Soleberry 15 pass from Jeremy Uzee (Nate Shaw kick)