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Rabun’s dream season ends in state title game loss to Hapeville

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The 2017 dream season for Rabun County was going to end Friday night one way or the other. It wasn’t the finish the Wildcats (14-1) were hoping for, however, as Hapeville Charter (14-1) led wire-to-wire en route to a 35-23 win in a freezing Tiger.

There wasn’t a seat to be had on the Rabun sideline, as the Wildcat Nation came out to support Lee Shaw’s Wildcats, who entered the game as the last unbeaten team in the state, and ranked #2 in class 2A. The visiting Hornets were 3-point underdogs according to Maxwell Ratings’ spread. However, a 21-3 halftime lead quickly turned into a 28-3 early third quarter deficit for Rabun.

The Wildcats looked as if they’d score first with Bailey Fisher driving Rabun down the field on the opening drive. However, Fisher’s fade pass to the corner of the end zone was picked off by Christopher Smith, a UGA 3-star commit. The Hornets slowly moved the chains the other way until Hajj-Malik Williams found Antawan Smith Jr from 15 yards out for the game’s first score in the final seconds of the first quarter.

Rabun again worked down to the 1-yard line with a full set of downs, but penalties pushed the Cats back, and they settled for a 27-yard Andrew Barnes field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 early in the second.

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Hapeville then ignited on offense, using primarily the running game and some well-timed passes for a pair of scores before the break: a 5-yard touchdown run by Williams followed by another from two yards out with 37 seconds left.

The Hornets’ scored again midway through the third quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Andunte Devereux. As time ticked away, and Hapeville held a 28-3 commanding lead, Fisher reached deep and found an open Braxton Hicks up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown with 1:29 left in the third, which cut the deficit to 28-10.

No one scored until late in the fourth, when the Hornets put their final tally up, a Williams-to-Kivante Johnson 20-yard touchdown to pull ahead 35-10. The Wildcats dialed it up in the final few minutes, with Fisher throwing touchdown passes to Austin Jones (47 yards with 1:31 left) and to Austin Sosebee (10 yards with 0:47 left). The latter was the last pass of Fisher’s career, closing the book as easily one of the best players to suit up for the Cats. Fisher threw three touchdowns versus two interceptions, which was half of his season total entering the game.

While the ending wasn’t what Rabun and Wildcat Nation wanted, it is still a dream season. Every team in the state fights from the moment spring practice starts with a common goal of playing for the state championship. Rabun County accomplished that goal, and was without blemish until the final second rolled off the clock. It’s not a loss, however, as coach Shaw shouted at midfield after being handed the runner-up trophy, “Long Live the Brotherhood,” a motto that the Wildcats not only say, but adopted and lived out. What Rabun County did was nothing short of historical, and is bigger than the game of football itself.

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