Sandy Creek falls to top-ranked Cartersville 35-21
by Christopher Dunn
The heavyweight battle that had been circled on the calendar all year did not disappoint, the top-ranked Cartersville Hurricanes beating the Sandy Creek Patriots in a 35-21 shootout Friday night.
After the Patriot offense went three and out on their first possession, the Hurricanes’ offensive fireworks ignited, led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the consensus top rated junior recruit in the nation. Lawrence led the Canes on a 52-yard scoring drive, capping it off with a 6-yard pass for a 7-0 lead.
Another Creek three and out would be followed by one from Cartersville, aided by some good pressure on third down.
The Patriots got themselves on the board with an impressive 76-yard drive. Jaelen Greene got it into gear, piling up 41 yards on two consecutive runs. Bryant Walker went to the air, hitting tight end Parker Mallett for 18 yards on a post and airing out a jumpball that Kaleb Slaughter pulled down for a 9-yard touchdown. Benjamin Rutland added the extra point for a 7-7 tie.
Cartersville responded with a 70-yard scoring drive, Lawrence finishing it with a 12-yard touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Missed opportunities would hamper the Patriots for much of the second quarter. A dropped pass ended their next drive, but Colby Warrior recovered a fumble to set his team up in Hurricane territory. The ensuing drive would go nowhere.
Cartersville’s next possession died with a key Isaiah Appling pass breakup on 3rd and long, getting the Patriots the ball back. Drezyn Parson wowed the crowd by hurdling the line on a 14-yard run, but a fumble would lead to Cartersville starting on the Patriot 18. They wasted no time as Lawrence tossed his third touchdown of the night.
Sandy Creek’s next possession was another three and out as a long bomb connection was just off. Cartersville’s offense met the same fate when Herbert Washington and Nathan Brown teamed up for a sack on 3rd down.
A shanked punt set the Patriots up at the Hurricane 36, and they did not waste the golden opportunity. They just weren’t going to be denied, Walker staring down a 4th and 7 and scrambling for just enough to move the chains, despite a bit hit from the defense. A 2nd and long was chopped down with a big catch and run to Javan Hawes. Walker went back to Slaughter for his second score of the half, Slaughter hauling in a spectacular juggling 12-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 late in the half.
Cartersville thought they had an emphatic answer, returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but it was called back, sending the game into the half with the Hurricanes up a touchdown.
The Patriot defense started the second half hot, turning the Canes away with a Demetrius Worthy sack and a crushing Mychael Jenkins hit to break up a 3rd down pass.
The offense started strong, Walker converting a 3rd down with a 10-yard hookup with Hawes. Marvin Hubbard followed that up with a 24-yard run, but the Patriots would not convert a 4th down in Cartersville territory.
The Hurricanes went for it all on first down, hitting on a 50-yard bomb. Their first rushing touchdown of the night, a 14-yard jaunt, pushed their lead to 28-14.
After a Creek three and out, Cartersville added a little more cushion with a 56-yard scoring drive for a 35-14 advantage.
Sandy Creek saw their chance early in the fourth quarter when Appling pounced on a loose ball on a screen pass to set his team up at the Hurricane 24. Greene chewed up a big chunk of it, then plunged over the top for a 2-yard score to cut the deficit to 35-21 with nine minutes to play.
Kolbi Neal helped the Patriots get the ball back with a key tackle on third down. The offense could not take advantage of good field position, missing on two bombs and then getting picked off on a desperation heave on 4th and long.
Cartersville’s offense gained no traction off the turnover, but their defense would get after Walker on the last gasp possession, sacks killing the final chance.
Trevor Lawrence finished the night 18 of 30 passing for 274 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions for Cartersville.
Bryant Walker completed 8 of 23 for 101 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception for Sandy Creek. Javan Hawes was his leading receiver, catching 4 passes for 43 yards. Jaelen Greene led the rushing attack with 22 attempts for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The win moves Cartersville to 8-0 overall, 4-0 in region play. Sandy Creek drops to 4-3, 1-2 in region play.
Starr’s Mill rushing attack too much to handle for Chiefs
by Dylan Hynson
Coming off a controversial loss last Friday against Whitewater, the Starr’s Mill Panthers were looking to get their fourth straight win in the series over the rival McIntosh Chiefs, who were also coming off a loss to Fayette County on homecoming. The Panthers rushing attack was dominant throughout, all 379 yards of offense coming on the ground as they cruised to victory, 28-7.
“We’re proud of the way our guys handled adversity,” Starr’s Mill head coach Chad Phillips said. “We didn’t handle success well last week after the win against Griffin, but we came back after the bitter defeat from Whitewater.”
The Panthers took the football first and didn’t waste any time scoring. After 12 plays on the drive, junior running back Mitch Prowant capped it off with a 27-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
McIntosh also started off quick with a big run on their first play from scrimmage. However, the Panther defense stepped up as Michael Odom sacked senior quarterback Zach Sanders to bring up fourth down. The Panther defense held the Chiefs to only 177 yards of total offense on the night.
Four plays later, Starr’s Mill found themselves back in the end zone on junior running back Cole Gilley’s 54-yard rush to increase the lead to 14-0 with 2:11 to go in the first quarter. This was a positive change after their first two possessions the previous week against Whitewater when the Panthers had fumbled it twice and dug themselves a 14-0 hole.
“We talked about starting the game off right,” Phillips said. “We always start the game slow, so when we won the toss in this game, we took the ball and drove it down the field and scored, getting us the momentum.”
McIntosh continued to struggle offensively as Sanders threw an interception to junior Phillip Pfaffman to give the Panthers great field position at the McIntosh 28-yard line. After converting a fourth and short, the Panthers failed to get the first down and called on the field goal unit. Sophomore kicker Michael Lance stepped up and seemed to put one through the goal posts, but the referees said it was no good, to the displeasure of Phillips and the Panthers. The score remained 14-0 Panthers early in the second quarter.
The Chiefs fed off the missed field goal and got their offense moving in the right direction, converting a big third down on a screen pass that went 37 yards to the Panther 42-yard line. McIntosh would finally score a few plays later as junior running back Bradley Ector scampered 22 yards for the Chief touchdown, bringing the McIntosh crowd back into the game as they were trailing 14-7 with 6:53 left in the half.
“Our offense really shined at times,” McIntosh head coach Lee Belknap said. “It’s the consistency we have to work on and get better at to win some of these games.”
Starr’s Mill drove the ball down the field on their next possession behind big runs from junior running back Nick Brown. The Panthers faced a critical fourth down with eight yards to go to pick up the first. Junior quarterback Joey DeLuca fired a pass to wide receiver Brandon Rew that fell incomplete, but a flag for roughing the passer kept the drive alive. Belknap immediately found a referee to argue his case, but an unsuccessful attempt kept the Panthers moving. Three plays later, Brown scored from seven yards out to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead late in the first half. The Chiefs tried to get something going with only 39 seconds left in the half, but time expired before they could get a hail mary attempt off and found themselves trailing by 14 at the half.
“We had a lot of momentum going into the locker room at that point,” Phillips said. “Our kids became confident in themselves and never let go of that lead.”
The second half began with a quick three and out from McIntosh. The Panthers would spend the second half just melting the clock whenever they were on offense, and they did just that on their next drive. A nine play drive led to yet another score from the Panthers, this time from running back Khalen Sims on a 7-yard run to push the lead even further to 28-7 Starr’s Mill. Sims was the fourth running back to score in this game, showing the selflessness of the Panthers running backs.
“That’s the most selfless group of guys on this team,” Phillips said. “They run hard, block for each other, and I really challenged them to be selfless and play hard, and they did just that tonight.”
The Chiefs found a glimmer of hope on the next drive, marching down the field on several big throws from Sanders to different receivers. Just as the Chiefs were about to score on a scramble, Sanders fumbled the ball on the goal line which was recovered by Starr’s Mill, keeping it a 21-point game. While only surrendering two turnovers on the night, it was these mistakes that kept the Chiefs from grasping a grip on this game.
“Obviously the fumble was huge,” Belknap said. “You can’t turn the ball over when you’re trailing and expect to get back in the game.”
The Panthers continued to melt the clock, going on a 17-play drive that went well into the fourth quarter thanks to tough running from their three-headed attack. The Panthers would face a fourth down on their 22-yard line and failed to get the first down, but left little time for McIntosh to do anything. The final few ticks ran off the clock and Starr’s Mill picked up a crucial region victory and their fourth straight victory over McIntosh with a 28-7 win.
“We’re going to keep running it until they stop us, and they couldn’t stop us,” Phillips said. “They never made a true adjustment to our running game, so we just kept running the ball.”
The Panthers picked up a key region victory and will have a much needed bye week this Friday. They will continue their road to the playoffs when they face off with the region’s top team Riverdale on the road next Friday night. As for McIntosh, they also face a perennial force in Griffin at home this Friday, looking to get their first win in region play.
Fayette County falls to Griffin in wild 42-35 shootout
by Rob Grubbs
The Fayette County Tigers have a long history of playing the Griffin Bears – the two schools faced each other every year from 1978 through 1999, even playing twice in the same season three times early in the series when including region playoff games. After a 17-year hiatus, the Tigers were set to renew the rivalry and face the toughest opponent on their schedule to date. The Bears’ (6-1) high powered offense, led by QB Tylan Morton, came into the contest averaging 49 points per game with a spread offense that features tough inside running and speedy receivers for the region contest.
With a lot still be determined in the region standings, the Tigers were looking to start fast and find a couple of defensive stops to stay close with the Bears and find a way to win in the end. It was a strategy that Tiger head coach Mike Davis designed and it worked perfectly up the last second, when the Tigers fell short at the four yard line with only seconds left on the clock. The Bears held on and escaped Tiger Stadium with a 42-35 win and kept pace with top seed Riverdale for the top position in the region.
As the game got underway, it was obvious that the Fayette County pass rush was making it more difficult than Morton expected, and, after a short punt, the Tigers started a drive from their own 18 yard line. It only took six plays for Fayette County to take the lead from there when QB Malcolm Easterwood scored on a 1-yard run. On the next possession, Morton continued to be forced from the pocket and coughed up a fumble at midfield that was returned for a touchdown by Karlen Samples for a 14-0 Fayette County lead midway through the first.
The Bears seemed a bit stunned, but steadied themselves with a methodical 10-play drive, mixing in the run and pass that put them on the board for the first time at 14-7.
The Tigers responded with their second scoring drive of the evening, capped off by a 24-yard run by Jalil Dabney, and for the first time in the game everyone sensed that Fayette was real and ready to take their first win over Griffin in 22 years.
In GHSA, Track and Field is a spring sport that begins February, but Griffin and Fayette County decided to start early and turned this game into their own track meet. Both teams chewed up yardage, sometimes in big chunks, as the scoreboard operator seemed to be working just as hard as the players themselves. Griffin scored on their next possession to bring it back to a 7-point game, but the Tigers raced downfield and seemed to be setting up for another score before halftime, but the first of two costly fumbles gave the ball back to Griffin, who capitalized and scored again to tie the game at halftime, 21- 21.
After receiving the second half kickoff, Griffin scored quickly for their third possession in a row and had their first lead of the evening. It seemed as if Fayette County had expended too much energy early and now could only hope to hang on, but the Tigers had something in reserve, and tied the game up with new energy and a strong running game, covering 50 yards in only six plays, all runs, finished by Dabney’s second touchdown of the night. As the offense exited the field with the extra point, Dabney encouraged the coaches and team to continue grinding the ball down the field.
As was the norm by now, Griffin scored again in only four plays to take the lead, only to see Fayette County answer right back with a one play drive after a failed Griffin onside kick that featured a halfback pass from Trent Carrington to Reggie Booker for 39 yards. With 4:54 left in the third quarter, the game was right where it was when it started, tied up. Everyone began to sense that whoever had the ball last would be the winner of this shootout.
Griffin took the kickoff and moved down field easily, as Morton now had more time to find open receivers for some long gains, but a defensive stand that featured an interception in the end zone by Easterwood ended the threat and gave Fayette the ball with the opportunity to once again take the lead. After a couple of first downs, Fayette had to punt, and Griffin drove the length of the field for the touchdown that would end up being the final margin of the evening.
Fayette had a strong drive going, but their second fumble of the evening seemed to be the end of a noble effort. Griffin had the Fayette defense on the ropes, they had a 7-point lead and the ball with six minutes left. On 2nd and 10 from their own 45, Morgan completed a pass for another first down on Fayette’s side of the 50, but a penalty negated the yardage and the defense finished up with a stop. After a good Griffin punt, Fayette would get one last possession on their own 18 yard line and 3:53 left in the clock.
Relying on their option offense and Easterwood running it with precision, the Tigers moved downfield quickly and found themselves looking at 1st and 10 from the Griffin 11 yard line and only 57 seconds remaining. Three consecutive keepers by Easterwood brought the ball to the 4 yard line. Needing one yard for a first down and four yards for the tying score, Griffin held up on the fourth down play as Bear linebacker Larry Corbin sliced through the line for the game-saving tackle.
The Tiger emotions went from one extreme to the other, from about to tie the game and possibly win on a successful two point conversion to a 7-point loss.
Afterwards, Coach Davis could not have been more proud of his team’s valiant effort, “The final score does not define the character of our team tonight. We fought back, we took a step forward, and this game will be a defining moment for them.”
He specifically mentioned Easterwood as a leader on the field and in the classroom, with a 3.9 GPA to go with his talents, a perfect definition of a student-athlete.
For the game, Griffin’s Morgan put up big numbers, completing 25 of 32 passes for 360 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding two rushing touchdowns as well.
Fayette relied on the running game, grinding out 297 rushing yards, led by Easterwood with 97 yards and a score on 17 carries and Dabney with 67 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 carries. Corey Andrews added 80 yards on 5 attempts, and Zavier Anderson picked up 51 more on 8 carries. Reggie Booker hauled in 2 catches for 106 yards and a score.
Fayette (3-3-1) now has a short week to get ready for a road game on Thursday night against the Morrow Mustangs (1-7), a win will keep the Tigers in a hunt for a play-off spot.