The long journey back to the state playoffs is complete for the Sandy Creek Patriots. After sitting out last season, the Patriots officially secured a playoff berth with a 45-0 victory over the Central Lions on Friday night.
Sandy Creek finished the season 7-3 and will represent Region 5-AAAA as the third seed in the playoffs. They hit the road to face Region 8-AAAA North Oconee next week. Central fell to 2-8 and concluded their 2018 season.
“Last year, we were 5-5 and this season was our statement year,” senior running back Jaquille Lee said. “We had to come out and show everyone that we were back. I feel like we are doing a good job of that. Heading into the playoffs, we are going to see what we can do and praying for the future.”
The Patriots left a sizable impression against the Lions. The offense exploded with several big plays against Central. Junior safety Brian Branch electrified the home crowd twice with an interception on the Lions first drive and a kickoff return touchdown to open the second half. Sandy Creek fed off his energy to power their offensive attack.
Junior quarterback Matthew Williams led the charge early. He was impressive engineering the offense. He threw for 3 touchdowns, including 2 scores to Ahmad Jackson on back-to-back drives. Williams later found senior wideout R.J. Howard on a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Howard was one of several seniors to bid adieu to the Patriots faithful on Senior Night. Each flashed with individual highlights. Howard finished with 2 receiving touchdowns, including a 30-yard connection from senior quarterback Jamal Lewis.
“I just wanted to get a win and go out with a bang,” Howard said. “This is the last home game of the year and I wanted to get it done. It felt great to get some touchdowns.”
Lee also got involved with a 62-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He took a handoff and shot through the line into the open field. Senior tight end Till Garvin left his mark with a trick play pass and Adam James registered a sack as well.
“I told Coach (Garvin) that all I need is one and I would be done to rest up for next week,” Lee said. “Once I saw it, my eyes lit up. I thought I was going to get caught, but the speed kicked in and it was good.”
Sandy Creek continued to build momentum heading into the playoffs. They enter on a three-game winning streak. All season, Patriots head coach Brett Garvin has preached about having a focused mentality. With one of the most talented rosters in the state, the Patriots have shown the tools to win with consistency.
It took a while as the Patriots had their mentality tested. Against Cartersville and Troup County, they showed an ability to compete against top competition. They were in both games, but faltered down the stretch. Other times, like against LaGrange and Cedartown, the Patriots had to battle back to pull out a victory.
Now with the playoffs looming, Garvin is seeing the fruits of his message. The team synergy has been the driving force combining intensity and focus to be successful.
“We talked about mediocrity and letting it creep in and great teams don’t do that,” Garvin said. “Great teams have the gas to the floor the whole time. They came out in the second half and they did that. Brian (Branch) started it with kickoff return and they ramped it up and kept it going. I was proud of them.”
North Oconee presents the next hurdle for Sandy Creek. The Titans are a well-coached program that went 8-2 this season. They are undefeated at home and have scored 284 points in 10 games. The Patriots must be disciplined and play a clean game. Garvin thinks the squad will be up for the challenge.
“They are a very good team,” Garvin said. “But, we have to just do Sandy Creek and don’t worry about them. We can’t control who they got and we can’t control their players. But, we can control our players and what we do.”