COTTONDALE — The first two weeks of the season saw Chipley edge past Marianna and Graceville for a pair of close four-point victories. In the three weeks since, the Tigers haven’t had to deal with any late game drama on their way to a 5-0 start.

Chipley used a dominant second half to cruise past Cottondale 34-12 Friday night and keep its unbeaten mark intact. The Tigers will get an off week now before hosting Freeport on Oct. 6 with a chance to make it six straight wins to begin the season. Cottondale fell to 3-1 and will play at Liberty County next week.

It’s an impressive and somewhat unexpected start for the Tigers after they struggled mightily in a preseason opener against Blountstown, but Chipley coach Blake Wilson was quick to deflect credit for the team’s success from himself and toward his players.

“The kids are the ones that did all the work in the summer, so hats off to them,” he said. “They’ve worked hard and busted their tails.”

Few Tigers worked harder Friday night than junior running back Kelvin Dean, who had the biggest performance of his season and career with a personal-record 275 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Andrew Lawton added 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Jordan Speed carried 21 times for 92 yards. Senior quarterback Mason Cook added a 24-yard rushing touchdown as well.

The Tigers won easily despite losing the turnover battle 3-0, with the defense keeping the Hornets out of the end zone after all three giveaways. Cottondale briefly cut the lead to 14-12 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Jimmy Price with 3:26 left in the second quarter.

However, Chipley answered with a pair of long touchdown runs by Dean, the first from 35 yards out to make it 20-12 late in the second quarter, and the second from 60 yards out on his first touch of the second half to give the Tigers a 27-12 lead. Cook’s touchdown on a bootleg keeper with 8:06 left in the fourth rounded out the scoring.

The Chipley defense did its part in the final 24 minutes, limiting the Cottondale offense to just 89 total yards on 24 plays and shutting them out after halftime.

“Cottondale’s a very good team and in the first half they came out and took it to us,” Wilson said. “We were in a dog fight. A couple more plays from Cottondale and the game could’ve been different, so hats off to them. They’re a good team and well-coached. We were fortunate to make some plays when we did.”

Cameron Brooks led the Hornets with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries while completing 3 of 9 passes for 33 yards, while Dominique Pittman rushed 15 times for 47 yards. Price carried eight times for 25 yards and a touchdown.

The Hornets missed several opportunities to take the lead in the first half, with a high snap killing their first series inside the Chipley 25-yard line, and a pair of crucial dropped passes preventing potential touchdowns. Brooks got Cottondale on the board for the first time with a brilliant 65-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, but the Hornets failed to take the lead after being stopped on four straight plays from the 5-yard line on their next possession.

Chipley went up 14-6 with a six-play scoring drive capped off by a 57-yard touchdown run by Dean, his first of the night, and Cottondale never had the ball with a chance to take the lead again.

“We had a couple of mental breakdowns,” Hornets coach Tyler Addison said. “It’s some stuff we’ve got to learn from. We had some adversity hit and we have to learn to fight through it and get better from this. But (the Tigers) kept pounding it in there on us. We had a couple of guys beat up and they did a real good job. They’re a real physical team.”

The loss isn’t especially hurtful to the Hornets’ playoff chances with the new playoff system, as a loss to an undefeated team still awards them 30 out of a max 50 points. Chipley earned 50 in the victory, with Dean predicting it as just one more step on the path to Orlando for the Tigers.

“We’re on the road to state,” he said. “This was a big game that was worth 50 points and we didn’t want to lose and get 30. I don’t think we’re going to lose this year. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my team. We came out here (tonight) and went hard and we’ve just got to keep going hard every game.”