The 2018 high school football season in Georgia ended Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as the final four state champions were crowned in the Georgia High School Association.
The final champion crowned was probably the most unlikely when the two-day football marathon began Tuesday with the first four of the eight championship games.
Milton completed its surprising run to the Class 7A state championship with an upset of top-ranked Colquitt County in the last game of the season. The state title was the first-ever for the Eagles.
Also on Wednesday, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Blessed Trinity once again won state titles while Heard County also was crowned a state champion for the first time.
Below is recap of the four state championship games played on Wednesday to close out the prep season on the gridiron.
Class A Private
Eagle’s Landing Christian 44, Athens Academy 17
Eagle’s Landing Christian won another state championship on Wednesday morning.
And, this one had special meaning.
The state crown was the fourth in a row for the Chargers (13-1), making them only the fourth program in state history to claim four consecutive state championships. The others were Buford (2007-10) and West Rome (1982-85).
ELCA head coach Johnathan Gess said this one took some serious work. The Chargers started the season having to replace 13 starters and had only 13 seniors on the roster entering the 2018 campaign.
“We really had to fight this year to win,” Gess said.
The Chargers had to overcome a 10-0 halftime deficit to win Wednesday’s contest which was a rematch of last year’s final between ELCA and Athens Academy which the Chargers won 41-3.
ELCA quickly erased the Spartans’ lead in the third quarter. The Chargers opened the second half with the ball and drove 64 yards to score on a 23-yard pass from Brayden Rush to Justin Menard.
Moments later, Rush teamed with Justin Robinson on a 14-yard touchdown pass that followed a 27-yard interception return deep inside Athens Academy territory by Jack Buckley.
The Chargers would then force a three-and-out by the Spartans (13-1) on their next possession, and Rush and Menard hooked up again for a 50-yard scoring pass that gave ELCA a 20-10 lead less than seven minutes into the third quarter.
The Spartans responded with a 55-yard scoring drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown run by Len Whitehead that pulled Athens Academy within 20-17 inside the final minute of the third period.
But, the Chargers would score the final 24 points of the game over the last 12 minutes to turn a close game into a runaway victory. They scored three touchdowns and a field goal on their final four possessions of the game while forcing two interceptions by the Spartans.
ELCA’s scoring explosion included a 24-yard run by Keaton Mitchell, a 25-yard field goal by Austin Reed, a 58-yard run by Mitchell and a 35-yard run by Josh Rogers.
The Chargers finished the game with 490 total yards including 256 after halftime.
Mitchell finished with 173 yards rushing on 17 carries while Rogers added 77 yards on seven attempts.
Rush was 11-of-22 through the air for 212 yards and the three touchdowns.
Athens Academy ended up with 218 yards.
Whitehead gained 104 yards on 13 carries while scoring twice.
Palmer Bush was 12-for-23 passing for 88 yards. He was picked off three times and sacked four times.
Athens Academy has never won a state championship. The Spartans have lost only to ELCA in the finals each of the last two years.
Heard County 27, Rockmart 6
Heard County is a state champion for the first time.
The Braves (13-2) avenged a 33-0 loss to Rockmart (14-1) with their triumph on Wednesday afternoon. The September game was called at halftime due to severe weather.
The championship game was much different.
The Braves led 8-0 at halftime, 14-0 after three quarters and 27-0 in the fourth quarter until the Yellow Jackets scored a late touchdown to avoid the shutout.
The Heard defense held Rockmart to 86 yards rushing on 36 tries for a 2.4 average per attempt.
The Braves also intercepted Rockmart quarterback Dylan Bailey twice. Bailey threw for 114 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-20 passing.
“The defense played lights out,” said Heard coach Tim Barron.
The Braves got 147 yards rushing and two scores from Aaron Beasley who carried 31 times in the game. He scored the Braves’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run in the first quarter and Beasley scored their last touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Also, Heard quarterback Alijah Huzzie added a pair of 1-yard TD runs while carrying 10 times for 33 yards.
Huzzie completed 2 of 6 passes for 13 yards. He threw a pass to Lequincy Shepard for a two-point conversion following the Braves’ first touchdown late in the opening quarter.
“It wasn’t our best game, but we did what we had to do,” Huzzie said.
The Braves scored on four of their five trips inside the red zone while the Jackets failed to score both times they advanced the ball into the red area.
The Jackets drove to the Heard 12-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half but missed a 28-yard field goal.
They were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter by the Braves who then drove 98 yards in 10 plays to go up 14-0.
Rockmart has not won a state title since the 1950 season. The Jackets came into the championship tilt scoring 45.8 points a game.
The Braves did not have Beasley, a Tennessee commit, in the first meeting between the teams. He entered the state final with 1,817 yards rushing for the season.
The win was the 12th in a row for the Braves who did not lose again after falling to Rockmart in the third week of the season.
Blessed Trinity 23, Cartersville 9
Blessed Trinity won its second straight state championship while handcuffing the explosive Cartersville offense from start to finish.
The Titans defeated Marist for the state title last December after knocking off two-time defending champion Cartersville in the second round.
The Purple Hurricanes won the 2015 and 2016 state championships. Cartersville (14-1) has won 55 of 57 games over the last four seasons with the only two losses coming to the Titans in the last two years.
Wednesday’s game was No. 1 vs. No. 2 as the Titans (15-0) were ranked first in the state poll going into the playoffs while the Purple Hurricanes were ranked second.
The Titans lost just once in 15 games last season, falling 25-24 to Marist in the next-to-last game of the regular season before avenging that loss in the state final.
With six victories to finish off last year and 15 more this season, Blessed Trinity has won 21 games in a row.
Wednesday’s victory was the 90th with the Titans for head coach Tim McFarlin who also won a state crown at Roswell.
“These kids have just made this so enjoyable,” McFarlin said. “It’s about them. I told someone earlier today it’s all about the horses not about the wagon.
“This football team has just played wonderful. We’re excited to have another one.”
Cartersville was scoring 38.1 points a game before facing off against the Titans which held the Purple Hurricanes to three field goals.
Cartersville actually outgained the Titans 323 to 269 for the game and trailed only 7-6 going into the fourth quarter.
The Purple Hurricanes unraveled in the final stanza, though.
Their downfall began with a high punt snap that ended up bouncing through the end zone for a safety which gave the Titans a 9-7 lead just seconds into the fourth quarter.
Following the ensuing free kick, Jake Smith heaved a bomb to Ryan Davis over the top of the Cartersville defense for a 54-yard scoring pass and a 16-6 lead after the made extra-point kick. The Titans threw for the touchdown on third-and-7 from their own 46-yard line.
It got worse for Cartersville from there. The Purple Hurricanes lost a fumble after a completed pass on the first play of their next series that Caron Harof recovered for the Titans at the Cartersville 28 with 9:10 left to play.
Blessed Trinity turned the miscue into another touchdown as it ate up 3:36 of clock time while running nine plays including eight rushes before punching the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Smith.
Following the PAT, the score was 23-6 with 5:42 remaining.
Cartersville got a third field goal from Oscar Hernandez – this one from 35 yards, on its next possession to make it 23-9. But now, only 2:41 remained on the clock.
An unsuccessful onside kick gave Blessed Trinity the ball and the Titans ran off all but the final three seconds to close out their title run.
For the game, Smith was 10-of-18 passing for 156 yards and two touchdowns for the Titans. He also threw a 9-yard TD pass to Ryan Dupont early in the second quarter for the team’s first score of the game.
Steele Chambers, an Ohio State commit, ran for 98 yards on 22 carries for the Titans.
Cartersville’s Marcus Gary led all rushers with 175 yards on 26 carries in defeat.
Tee Webb finished 12-of-26 passing for 149 yards with two interceptions for the Purple Hurricanes.
Cartersville came into the game allowing just over seven points a game to lead Class 4A.
Milton 14, Colquitt County 13
Milton made history in the final state championship game Wednesday night, putting its name in the state’s all-time record books with its first state championship.
The win by the Eagles (13-2) was perhaps the most surprising of the eight over the two days of the GHSA finals.
Colquitt County (14-1), the top-ranked team in the state which also was in the running for a national championship, was favored by 21 points according to the popular Maxwell Ratings.
Milton also ended the dominance by Region 1 and Gwinnett County teams in the state’s largest classification. Teams from the South Georgia league, which includes Colquitt County, and Gwinnett had won or shared every state championship in Georgia’s biggest class going all the way back to the 1996 season.
The Packers won the state crown back-to-back in the 2014 and 2015 seasons and were playing in their fourth championship game in five seasons. The team suffered a second straight gut-wrenching defeat to a first-time state champion.
Last December, Colquitt saw North Gwinnett claim its first state title by making a field goal on the final play of the game on the home field of the Bulldogs.
This year, the Packers saw their title hopes dashed on the turf at Mercedes-Benz when Milton stopped them on downs at their own 45-yard line with 1:08 remaining on the game clock.
Colquitt could only stop the clock once with its final timeout before the Eagles snapped the ball twice more to end the game and begin their championship celebration.
“It’s the culmination of something that was very, very special,” said Milton second-year head coach Adam Clack. “If you watched us all year, you knew the kids had a unique belief in one another and a unique belief in the coaches. This was something they’ve earned. They didn’t luck themselves into it.”
Milton’s recipe for success against the Packers was built on ball-control and keeping Colquitt’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.
The Eagles won the time of possession, holding the ball for almost 28 minutes to 20 by the Packers
In the third quarter, Milton had the ball for all but 2:10 seconds and four plays by the Packers.
The Eagles missed a field goal at the end of a nearly five-minute drive to start the second half, leaving them behind by the 10-7 halftime score.
But after Colquitt went three-and-out on its only series of the third period, Milton kept the ball for more than five minutes and got a go-ahead touchdown run of 11 yards by Josh Edwards on fourth-and-1 just 13 seconds into the final quarter.
The fourth-down conversion was the third of the 15-play, 75-yard drive by the Eagles who ran a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from their own 46 for their first conversion with quarterback Jordan Yates, who is also the punter, keeping for 6 yards and a first down.
They also converted a fourth-and-1 from the Colquitt 27 with Edwards picking up 7 yards for a first down before he finished off the drive with his touchdown blast on the next fourth-down play.
Colquitt answered the Milton score with a 24-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald to get within 14-13 with 7:05 left.
The Packers had the ball first-and-goal on the Milton 10, but a false start penalty, killed their momentum. They gained eight yards on consecutive running plays before an incomplete pass on third down led to the field-goal try.
Colquitt’s defense got a stop after that, forcing a Milton punt from its own 39. A 42-yard boot by Max St. Vrain put the Packers back on their own 16 with 3:28 to play.
The Packers advanced the ball to their own 46, but the Milton defense buckled down from there, stopping a run for no gain, notching a sack for a 3-yard loss, forcing an incompletion and then pressuring Colquitt quartback Jaycee Harden into a dump pass that they stopped for a 3-yard gain to seal the win.
Milton finished with 300 yards to 239 by the Packers.
Yates threw for 177 yards and a score on 13-of-23 passing while also rushing for 96 yards on 25 keeps.
Edwards ran for 45 yards and the winning score on 12 carries for Milton.
Jordon Cox had five catches for 96 yards including a 66-yard TD reception for Milton’s opening score in the first quarter that gave the Eagles a 7-3 lead.
For Colquitt, Harden was 11-of-21 for 102 yards and an interception.
The Packers’ potent running back tandem of Daijun Edwards and Ty Leggett combined for 147 yards on the ground. Edwards led the team with 101 yards on 17 carries while Leggett finished with 46 yards on 11 attempts.
Leggett scored Colquitt’s only touchdown on a 10-yard run with 5:28 left in the second quarter that gave the Packers their 10-7 lead at intermission.
Fitzgerald got the Packers on the board first with a 30-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.