The Carrollton High School football team survived a region barnburner in its league opener on Friday night, eking past East Paulding in a 43-41 thriller in Dallas.
The No. 4 Trojans (3-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAAAA) received all they could handle from the upstart Raiders (1-3, 1-1), but in the end the visitors overcame some self-inflicted wounds and prevailed down the stretch to pull out the crucial region triumph.
"I've just got to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving us the ability and the stamina and mental toughness and a whole bunch of stuff to get us through the evening. We found a way, which was awesome," Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said.
Quarterback Mark Wright added 149 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries for the Trojans, while completing 9-of-19 attempts through the air for 96 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
"We know Jaylan is capable of doing it. Just the first couple of games, just the way it worked out, we didn't really need him to do that. But Jaylan, that just shows you right there why he's a captain," Calhoun said. "He was breaking tackles and taking some the distance. He's just a great kid. He's an example of a true Trojan and everything that you want in a kid. He had an exceptional night running the ball."
The Trojans didn't trail the entire evening, but they never held a comfortable lead, either, as the Raiders responded time and time again before Carrollton was able to run out the clock on its final drive after East Paulding quarterback John Estes rushed for a four-yard touchdown with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter.
One reason for the game remaining so tight stemmed from four Carrollton turnovers — three fumbles and an interception — that resulted in 20 points for East Paulding, including one fumble recovered in the end zone and one at the Trojan 1-yard line.
"So that's 14 points there that's not on the defense. That's on the offense. That's how some stats get skewed. But we definitely got to really focus on that. We had one on special teams, also. That was kind of a fluke thing, but it hit one of our kids in the back and that's a turnover," Calhoun said. "Other than the turnovers, the other alarming stat that we've got to be a much more discipline football team and play excellent football every snap is the amount of penalties we had. It was 12 for  yards. And there were two offsetting. So if you add in that 30 yards, that's 14 for almost 150. You normally don't win games like that."
Thomas started the scoring on an eight-yard run at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter and Wright's two-point conversion made it 8-0.
East Paulding answered on a four-yard pass from Estes to Jhalil Daniels to pull within 8-7, but Thomas broke loose for the 73-yard touchdown run less than a minute later to put Carrollton up 15-7 through one quarter of play.
In the second, East Paulding pulled back within a point on a two-yard Tyrell Robinson touchdown run, but the visitors responded on a 19-yard Wright touchdown run just before the half for the 22-14 Trojan lead going into the locker room.
The Trojan tailback made up for the miscue by finding the end zone midway through the third on a 32-yard run, but Robinson countered with a 23-yard score for East Paulding, leaving it a 29-28 Carrollton advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The two teams swapped two more scores in the final 12 minutes, as Wright started with a 47-yard touchdown, which was followed by a one-yard Robinson touchdown run. The Raider back finished the night with 144 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries.
After Thomas ripped off a 42-yard score just under the five-minute mark, Estes kept the Raiders' upset hopes alive with his four-yard run.
But the Trojans were able to move the chains and run out the clock to escape with the two-point win and return home to host Woodland, Cartersville (2-2, 0-1) next week at Grisham Stadium.
"They got beat by Villa Rica [on Friday], but you're talking about a team that was 0-for last year and they've already won two games and won a region game. They beat Cass," Calhoun said of Woodland. "So we know that we're going to get their best. The thing that this showed our kids [Friday] is we're going to get everybody's best and we have to be mentally and physically prepared."