Sandy Creek Patriots head coach Brett Garvin took a minute before addressing his players. As he looked in the distance, the looming scoreboard told the story. Seven points separated Patriots and the No. 4 ranked Cartersville Purple Hurricanes. One touchdown gave Cartersville a 7-0 victory.

Once the team gathered at the 10-yard line, Garvin began his usual postgame huddle. Before he concluded his speech, he looked at each of his players and announced that he was proud of them.

On Friday night, the Patriots proved they are an elite team in Class AAAA. They went toe-to-toe with one of the best programs in the state and lost in an instant classic. Sandy Creek battled all night and played arguably their best defensive game.

The defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions from junior defensive back Comanche Francisco. Fellow junior lineman Justin Beadles recovered a fumble and senior corner Nic Toomer blocked a field goal.

However, self-inflicted errors cost the Patriots. A crucial fumble by senior back Jacquille Lee halted a second quarter drive in the red zone, while three penalties cost the Patriots late in the fourth quarter.

“These kids played their hearts out and they (Cartersville) are the No. 4 team in the state for a reason,” Garvin said. They are good. You can’t make mistakes like that and expect to capitalize off them. I am proud as I can be for our kids.”

Momentum swayed throughout the game. After three quarters of scoreless play, the defensive battle funneled down to one crucial possession.

With 10:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Sandy Creek forced Cartersville to punt from their own 49-yard line. Upon receiving the punt, the Patriots were flagged for a personal foul penalty. This forced them to start on their own 7-yard line.

After two quick receptions from junior Rashad Amos and senior R.J. Howard, the Patriots had the ball at the 30-yard line. However, two big penalties hurt the drive. There was a holding call that backed them up 10 yards. On the following play, a false start pushed them to the 13-yard line.

The 15 yards of lost field position was significant. It put the Patriots behind the chains and forced them to punt from the end zone. As a result, the Canes got the ball at the Patriots 24-yard line and used an 8-play drive to score. Cartersville running back Marcus Gary scored a 2-yard game-winning touchdown to give the Canes the victory.

“We just got to cut down on mistakes and secure the ball a little better,” Garvin said. “We had three big penalties and we can’t do that.”

The loss pushes Sandy Creek to 4-3 on the season. More importantly, the Patriots are 1-2 in Region 5-AAAA play and sit fourth in the standings. Cartersville improved to 8-0 and remain undefeated in the region.

The season is not lost for the Patriots. They still have to face Central, Cedartown and LaGrange to close out region play. The state playoffs are still in front of them.

“We need to come out and practice,” Garvin said. “This thing is a long way from over and we are 1-2 in the region. But, we lost to top teams in the region and beat the No. 12 team. We just got to practice and do what we need to do.”

Despite the loss, the Patriots showcased a lot of moxie at home. The offense operated in space and were successful with plays up the middle. Early on, quarterback Matt Williams found running lanes and collected first downs. Howard and fellow receiver Ahmad Jackson hauled in receptions along the perimeter.

“It was one of things that we had to keep them off-balanced,” Garvin said. “Teams like that, you can’t sit there and do the same things over and over. They are going to adjust to it and we tried to spread it out and throw it on the perimeter.”

Still, the Patriots just couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities. They had chances to score in the red zone, but mistakes hurt them. It is something Garvin said the team will look at in the upcoming days.

“We just didn’t execute very well and we were not blocking on the perimeter like we were supposed to be,” Garvin said.

Sandy Creek gets back to work on Thursday against LaGrange. They will come in with confidence and a desire to finish strong. It is what the stretch against Troup and Cartersville taught the squad.

“I think it teaches the kids that you can do this,” Garvin said. “It’s football and you got to show up, be focused and do what you need to do.”