DULUTH — This wasn't quite the ending Duluth's football team had in mind heading into its regular season finale against Dunwoody.
The Wildcats did everything they needed to do behind 153 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries by Nyle Erwin, plus a strong defensive effort.
However, forces beyond their control cast a bit of a pall on their 33-3 victory Friday night at Cecil Morris Stadium.
Duluth did manage to record one bit of history, with their 6-4 mark guaranteeing the program's first winning season since 1995.
However, the wild fourth quarter comeback that vaulted Discovery to its first state playoff berth in its history with a 43-32 win over Meadowcreek left Duluth as the odd team out in a three-way tie with the Titans and Mustangs for the final two playoff berths from Region 7-AAAAAAA.
“We're still happy with the season, even though (missing the playoffs) cast a kind of somber note,” Duluth coach Cam Jones said. “We know how close we were to the playoffs, and I really wanted that for our seniors. We still have a lot to be proud of, so we can keep our heads up.”
While events a few miles across the county were conspiring against them, the Wildcats did their part to take care of their own business against Dunwoody (1-7, 1-5).
They rolled up 321 yards of total offense – paced by Ervin's big night on the ground, plus a combination of four different passers completing 15 of 17 attempts for 163 yards and three touchdowns – while allowing the DeKalb team sharing its nickname just just 46 total yards, including minus-30 on the ground.
And they jumped on Dunwoody early and often, scoring 20 first-quarter points and scoring in the first two minutes in three of the four quarters.
“We weren't going to waste time,” said Ervin, who will finish the season with more than 1,200 yards rushing. “
Duluth, in fact, didn't waste any time in getting going, though it was the defense that kick started things on the game's third snap.
The Wildcats pass rush got to Dunwoody quarterback Davis LeDoyen for a sack and poked the ball loose, with Antonio Cofield scooping it up and taking it five yards to the Dunwoody 39-yard line.
Ervin bolted 25 yards on the next snap to take the ball into the red zone, with Lonnie Ratliff IV flipping a shovel pass forward to Jaiden Jones for a 14-yard TD that put the host Wildcats in front 7-0 just 1:43 after the opening kick.
“We definitely wanted to start fast,” Cam Jones said. “Dunwoody, they're a very coach team. I think very highly of Coach (Michael) Nash, and I knew it was going to be important for us to swing first. That's kind of one of the mantras we have. … Don't wait for them to throw the punch.”
Dunwoody moved as far as the Duluth 34 on its next possession before turning the ball over on downs, and Duluth stuck quickly again.
This time, it took the Wildcats just four plays to go 66 yards, with Ervin doing most of the heavy lifting by chewing up 49 of those yards on three carries, including covering the final 27 for a score that extended the Duluth lead to 13-0 after failed two-point run attempt with 6:25 left in the opening frame.
The Wildcats were in business again at the Dunwoody 39 when Jordan Gilbert pounced on a high bounce on the ensuing onside kick.
This time, Duluth needed nine plays to find the end zone, but finally did when Jones took a direct snap and powered in from four yards out to push the lead to 20-0 with 1:31 left in the quarter.
After taking that lead into halftime, Duluth continued with its quick strike capability in the second half.
This time, it was a 49-yard return of the opening kickoff by John Durden that set the Wildcats up at the Dunwoody 32-yard line.
On the next snap, back-up quarterback David Jamieson fired a backwards lateral in the left flat to Aadil Desai, who lofted a ball to a wide-open Lawson Strong, who hauled it in for a 32-yard TD that pushed the lead to 27-0 just 16 seconds into the third quarter.
Dunwoody finally got on the board with Cooper West's 34-yard field goal with 3:43 left in the quarter, but Duluth's quick strike capability returned early in the fourth quarter.
After driving 59 yards in 10 plays down to Dunwoody 6-yard line to close out the third quarter, Cam Jones once again reached into his bag of tricks on the second snap of the final frame.
This time, he called for a direct snap to receiver Jaiden Jones, who channeled his former role as a quarterback by flipping a 6-yard scoring strike to Desai, which gave Duluth a 33-3 lead with 11:13 remaining.
DULUTH 33, DUNWOODY 3
Dunwoody 0 0 3 0 – 3
Duluth 20 0 7 6 – 33
Duluth: Jaiden Jones 14 pass from Lonnie Ratliff IV (Ratliff kick), 10:17
Duluth: Nyle Ervin 27 run (run failed), 6:25
Duluth: J. Jones 4 run (Ratliff kick), 1:31
Duluth: Lawson Strong 32 pass from Aadil Dasei (Ratliff kick), 11:44
Dunwoody: Cooper West 34 FG, 3:43
Duluth: Desai 6 pass from Jones (kick failed), 11:13
First Downs 5 18
Rushes-Yards 15-(-30) 37-158
Passing Yards 76 163
Comp.-Att.-INT 14-24-0 15-17-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-0
Penalties 5-39 5-50
Rushing: Dunwoody – Porter LeDoyen 1-5, Taylor Stephens 3-4, Matthew Moss 1-1, Bradley Fields, 3-(-2), Conner MacDonald 1-(-2), Davis LeDoyen 6-(-36). Duluth – Ervin 18-153, Jeremiah Little 1-18, J. Jones 4-9, Sevenn Jones 4-3, Ratliff 2-2, Jamarion Williams 2-(-4), TEAM 2-(-5), David Jamieson 4-(-18).
Passing: Dunwoody – D. LeDoyen 14-24-0, 76. Duluth – Ratliff 9-9-0, 96; Desai 1-1-0, 32; Jamieson 4-6-0, 29; J. Jones 1-1-0, 6.
Receiving: Dunwoody – Stephens 5-38, MacDonald 3-22, Fields 2-3, Sam Cole 1-8, Moss 1-4, Jack Pankey 1-3, Calvin Wichman 1-1. Duluth – J. Jones 6-44, Rishon Spencer 3-39, Desai 2-23, Anthony Miller Jr. 1-21, S. Jones 1-10, Jeremiah Little 1-(-6).