Southwest DeKalb's 24-7 win over Dunwoody on Thursday night was about more than gaining an edge for the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 6-AAAA.
Only 36 Southwest players were in uniform for the game, according to coach Buck Godfrey, as approximately 50 players did not participate for undisclosed reasons.
"Our kids showed a lot of character and poise," Godfrey said. "I can't thank them enough for what they did."
Southwest DeKalb, 4-2, entered the game tied with Dunwoody and Miller Grove for the fourth playoff spot. Miller Grove beat Douglass on Thursday and faces No. 1 Tucker next week.
Southwest DeKalb's poise showed itself in several places Thursday night. The Panthers were missing four running backs, according to Godfrey, but got an uplifting performance from Malik Wright. The 5-foot-8 Wright rushed for 133 yards, including 85 yards on six carries in the fourth quarter. The Panthers ran for 242 yards as a team with all three of their touchdowns coming on the ground.
Senior Toran Davis ran for a touchdown in the second quarter as the Panthers led 10-0 at halftime. Quarterback Jalil Young scored late in the third for a 17-0 lead. Dunwoody took advantage of a Southwest fumble inside its own 15-yard line and Justin King scored thre plays later on a quarterback sneak to cut the deficit to 17-7 with 10:05 remaining.
Dunwoody got another chance after Southwest muffed a punt attempt on its next possession. The Wildcats took over at the Panthers' 42 but turned the ball over on downs at the Panthers 21.
Southwest sealed the win on an 11-yard run by senior fullback Kori Thomas with 2:10 remaining. The score was set up by 66 yards rushing on five carries from Wright.
"Our running game has been what we rely on all year," Godfrey said. "Wright did a heck of a job, and Toran Davis has been a rock all season. Kori Thomas had some big runs and our tight end Arden Key made some big blocks and opened up some holes for us."
Both teams came into the game averaging more than 280 yards rushing and allowing less than 85 yards on the ground. Dunwoody rushed for 123 yards, but 47 came on a single run by King in the second quarter.
"Our defense is always coming," Godfrey said. "It's been steady all year. We played with a lot of heart tonight."