The Jaden Moreland show was on full display on Friday night in Franklin.
The Heard County High School senior standout was seemingly everywhere on the field, helping lift the top-seeded Braves to a 41-28 victory over No. 2 Pepperell in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs at Staples Stadium.
The Division I recruit hauled in two long touchdown passes on offense, intercepted a pass on defense and broke up another on fourth down to stop a late Dragon drive. For good measure, he also shined on special teams — blocking both a field goal and PAT attempt for the quality all-around effort.
Heard County senior signal-caller Emory Jones was equally impressive, having a hand in all six touchdowns — rushing for four and throwing two — to lead the Braves (11-1) to their third state quarterfinal appearance in school history and tie the single-season record for wins in the process.
Heard County will now travel to fellow No. 1 seed Thomasville (12-0) in the elite eight after the Bulldogs dispatched of Dublin on Friday night, 44-22.
Heard County head coach Tim Barron praised his two play-makers following the game for once again showing out when the lights shined the brightest.
“Both guys are special players and very special kids. Any time you can go into a game with players who love to battle, who are that competitive, you can win," Barron said. "And with Jaden, if you look at him on paper, he isn’t going to overwhelm you. But with his emotions, his preparation and his confidence, he is such a leader for us.”
The game began as an offensive highlight reel, with each team moving up and down the field at will.
Heard County scored on each of its four possessions, while Pepperell (8-4) was almost as good, scoring on its first two drives in an attempt to keep pace with the high-powered Brave attack.
Almost wasn’t good enough, though.
Jones struck Moreland on their first long connection of the night for a 56-yard score and the early 7-0 lead barely over a minute into the contest, but the visitors pulled even on a short Tae Hammond touchdown run with 7:11 remaining in the first quarter.
Heard County regained the lead for good on its next possession with Jones rushing six times for 44 yards, including his final tote of six yards for the 14-7 advantage.
Pepperell countered again, however, on another short Hammond run to pull back within 14-13 after Moreland snuffed out the PAT at the 10:06 mark of the second quarter.
Jones and Moreland made sweet music one more time on the next possession, hooking up for a 64-yard touchdown and 21-13 Heard County lead.
With the Dragons looking to answer, Moreland had more tricks up his sleeve, blocking a 33-yard field goal attempt to set up a key drive for the Braves just before the half.
Heard County offensive coordinator Randall Curbow took a major gamble on fourth-and-one from the HC 18, but it paid off and extended a drive that culminated in a one-yard Jones touchdown run for the 28-13 halftime cushion.
“Coach Curbow was practically begging me for the chance to go for it on fourth down,” Barron said. “He said he had no doubt we could make it. So we did. But that’s the thing. You have to have good coaches, and you have to trust their decisions.”
Jones rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in the first half, while completing 4-of-5 pass attempts for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite taking some of Heard's best shots, the Dragons didn't go down quietly in the third quarter.
Pepperell quarterback Trevor Thomas rushed for a 10-yard touchdown run at the 2:49 mark to make it a 28-21 contest after he struck Payton Rhodes on the two-point play.
But the Braves were able to put the game away down the stretch, tacking on two more touchdown runs by Jones, one of which was set up by Moreland's interception.
Barron, though pleased after the game, still saw areas of concern that will be ironed out over Thanksgiving break leading up to the quarterfinal trip to south Georgia.
“Our kids came out hungry in the game. I was very proud and excited by their effort, but on defense we have some work to do. There was a lot of misalignment that we need to correct. We need to clean some things up, but we played a very good football team," Barron said.