The renewal of the county’s oldest rivalry had all the makings of a defensive battle, and it did not disappoint, with the McIntosh Chiefs holding off the Fayette County Tigers for a 9-3 Homecoming night victory.
“It always feels good to win. I hate to say it kinda ruins your night when you lose, but it’s because these kids put so much in it,” said McIntosh Coach Lee Belknap. “To see them prepare like this, to play hard, and to see them be on the right side of the scoreboard tonight against what I think is a fine Fayette County football team, I’m very proud of them. That was the first thing I told them when we got in the locker room, I’m just proud to be on the sideline with them.”
There’s no shortage of respect in the rivalry.
“I don’t know if it’s good for my heart, but it’s exciting high school football,” Belknap said of the series that has been highlighted by one-score wins in recent years. “(Fayette) Coach Mike Davis does a great job preparing his kids. He’s a fine man and a fine football coach, and I’m just proud to know him and call him a friend.”
Offense was hard to come by all night, as nearly every promising possession was snuffed out by a steady pass rush on both sides or self-inflicted injuries.
McIntosh’s first drive got to just outside the red zone, but ended with a fumble. On their first turn, Fayette had a perfectly-drawn halfback pass from Jamal Cook but his throw was dropped by a wide-open wideout.
Aided by a 25-yard pass from JeKobe Coleman to Joshua Davis, the Tigers would still get something out of the series, with Aaron Hauck hitting a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
It would be the Tigers’ final points of the night, as McIntosh harassed them with a fierce pass rush. Still, Belknap came away impressed by Coleman’s calmness under pressure.
“He’s dangerous. He can run it, and he can throw it,” he said. “He’s a fine high school quarterback, and he’ll probably play on Saturdays one day.”
It’s not often the boys in the trenches get the spotlight, but the Chief defensive line, keyed by Reece Hildebrand, dominated the evening.
For Hildebrand especially, it was a beautiful feeling to rack up a career game on his senior Homecoming night.
“It feels pretty great to hear my name called out over the loud speaker,” he said. “It feels awesome.”
Belknap was quick to praise Hildebrand and his high-octane motor.
“He’s battled,” he said. “He’s faced some adversity, and I’m just very proud of that kid being the player and person that he is.”
McIntosh wouldn’t kick their offense into gear until the second half. Switching to Burton Hahn under center, they found more success through the air, using a 28-yard Jaylen Smith catch-and-run to set up a 9-yard Hahn to Jacob Woods touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked to limit the Chiefs’ lead to 6-3.
The defense quickly squashed the next drive when Ryan Sanders read the out route and made a diving interception just outside the 10 yard line. Adrien Richez drilled a 23-yard field goal to cap off the possession for a 9-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
Fayette strung together a pair of promising drives in the second half, but could not find their way back into the red zone as the Chiefs held on for their second win of the season.
Among a strong team effort, the night truly belonged to Baba Agbaje. The senior soccer star is in his first year playing football, and it is all starting to come together for the pure athlete. At halftime, he was crowned McIntosh’s Homecoming King, and in the second half he made several key plays at cornerback, swatting away deep pass attempts by the Tigers.
“It was an amazing feeling, I can’t even describe it,” said Agbaje of his big night. “I really give the glory to God for helping me out through all that, but it was so much fun. It’s a real blessing.”
Agbaje is learning on the fly and developing into a force for the Chiefs, but he’s quick to share credit.
“Throughout the summer, it was a grind trying to figure out and get it right,” he said of the steep learning curve hitting the gridiron for the first time. “The team and coaches have all been so supportive. They’ve made it way easier.”
At 2-4 overall and 1-1 in region play, the Chiefs are keeping themselves in the mix of an unsettled region. The next big test comes this week with a road test at rival Starr’s Mill.
“It’s up in the air, and, just like always, it’s a tough region from top to bottom,” said Belknap. “I really feel like anybody could beat anybody on any given day, and we’ve got a big one next week and the next week and the next week.”
At 0-6 overall and 0-2 in the Tigers, need to turn it around fast to get back in the hunt. They will look again for their first win this week at home against the Griffin Bears.
To see more photos from the game, click here.