ROSWELL, Ga. — With the forecast calling for soggy conditions, Ray Manus Stadium was far from full Friday night, and Roswell’s marching band was given the night off. But the atmosphere was anything but dull with the Hornets and Walton, the two defending Region 4-AAAAAAA champions, duking it out in a defensive battle that needed overtime to be settled.

After the game remained deadlocked at 7-7 after four quarters, Roswell (5-2, 2-1) went on offense first and needed just three plays to find the end zone. The Hornets’ defense then stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs to seal the game.

And with Roswell entering the game 1-1 in a region in which teams are only given five games to earn playoff spots and region titles, Hornets’ head coach Matt Kemper made no bones about the importance of the win.

“It’s huge,” Kemper said. “Now we’re going to take care of our business, [Walton] can hopefully take care of business, beat Cherokee, and we’ll both be hosting in the first round.”

In a contest where points were at a premium, the Hornets scored on their opening possession with a 13-play, 77-yard drive capped off by a 9-yard touchdown rush from John Copenhaver. Roswell started two more drives in Walton territory in the first half but were forced to punt on both possessions.

Walton (4-4, 2-1) tied the contest early in the second with a long drive of their own. The Raiders went 90 yards on 16 plays, led by the rushing of Kenny Djaha with quarterback Zak Rozsman calling his own number for a 4-yard touchdown run.

Walton was set up to take a lead into the half after Roswell quarterback Ethan Roberts’ pass was tipped and intercepted. The Raiders drove to Roswell’s 30-yard line, but Conor Cummins’ field goal as time expired on the second quarter curved wide left.

With the score still tied at 7-7 into the fourth, Roswell used rushes from Marquis Willis, Nnamdi Orjioke and Copenhaver to drive 62 yards into the red zone, but Walton held on a fourth-and-8 on their own 18-yard line.

“We got a little stagnant there in the middle but moved the ball still with some consistency,” Kemper said. “I’d like to have seen us punch it in after some of those drives, though.”

Walton took over on their own 20-yard line with under two minutes to go and drove inside Roswell territory, but the Hornets forced the Raiders to punt with 18 seconds remaining, pushing the game into overtime.

Roswell had focused on the run throughout the game and spread its rushes among the backfield. That plan was no different in overtime.

Walton won the toss and elected to go on defense. After a short rush from Ryan Hill, John Copenhaver ran to the goal line on the ensuing play to set up a 1-yard score from Hill.

Needing a stop to secure the win, Roswell’s defense heeded the call.

After a 1-yard rush from Djaha, Evan Plunkett pushed the Raiders back to the 19-yard line with a sack. Plunkett, a junior, was thrust into a new role to replace Doneiko Slaughter, who is out with a broken hand. Plunkett batted down a pass and had two tackles for a loss.

“Plunkett did a great job,” Kemper said.

Roswell brought pressure on the ensuing third-and-long play and forced Rozsman to scramble to set up fourth-and-9. The Hornets’ secondary gave Rozsman few options down the field, and with the pocket collapsing, the quarterback threw the ball to a receiver in the flat. Though his target had space, the pass skipped off the ground, sending Roswell’s bench onto the field in celebration.

“I’m proud of the ways the guys played hard and physical,” Kemper said.

Roswell compiled 201 yards rushing with Willis leading with 56 yards ahead of Hill’s 51 and Copenhaver’s 46. Savion Mccrary added 32 yards on nine carries.

Walton compiled 245 yards of total offense, led by 154 yards rushing from Djaha.

With Friday’s result, Roswell is now tied with Walton, Cherokee and Etowah atop the 4-AAAAAAA leaderboard, but the Hornets will certainly be the favorites Nov. 1 when they go on the road to face Woodstock (2-6, 1-2).  

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