GHSA Football State Championship Saturday Roundup

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Cedar Grove won the battle, but Region 5 rival Sandy Creek won the war after beating the defending champion Saints 21-17 in the Class 3A championship game at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.

After a 1-yard touchdown run from Travis Franklin with 50 seconds left in the game, the Sandy Creek defense forced a game-saving interception from cornerback Kaleb Cost. The pick ended a last-grasp effort from Cedar Grove as it attempted a game-winning drive. The Franklin touchdown was in question immediately as replay showed Franklin was brought down short of the end zone and the footage has gone viral with national media reigniting the debate on whether or not the state should implement instant replay. CBS Sports: Blown call helps Georgia high school win state title.

“Listen,” said Sandy Creek head coach Brett Garvin, addressing the crowd after the game. “We have great administrators from the top down. We have some of the best fans and people from Tyrone. By the way, the trophy is coming back to Tyrone. And our coaches wives sacrificed day in and out for these guys to coach kids playing sport.”

After making sure to acknowledge those who make a championship program possible behind the scenes, Garvin turned the focus to his team.

“But,” he said, pointing at his players. “That group right there, I told them at half time, I would not trade them for any team in America. Because they worked that hard and they play that hard all the time.”

Franklin scored on a 1-yard run with 6:49 left in the first quarter to put Sandy Creek up 7-0. Cedar Grove tied the game early in the second quarter on a 7-yard run from Quinterio Lawson and took the 10-7 lead on a 36-yard field goal from Amari Forte with 8:27 left before halftime.

Sandy Creek quarterback Geimere Latimer – who was 14-for-25 passing for 174 yards – scored on a 10-yard run to give Sandy Creek the 14-10 advantage with 6:12 left in the third quarter. Cedar Grove scored on a 20-yard run from Ricky Lee to regain the lead with 5:22 left in the game before Franklin’s game-winning run.

In the regular season, Cedar Grove beat Sandy Creek 49-34 in Region 5 play. The four-team league featured three of the top 5 programs – Cedar Grove, Sandy Creek and Carver-Atlanta — alongside Douglass-Atlanta and was a challenge. The quality of play and the experience it brought proved valuable once the Patriots entered the playoffs.

“Extremely tough,” Garvin said of the difficulty of Region 5 play. “I told each of Carver (Darren Myles) and Cedar Grove’s (John Adams) coaches to not be surprised if we played again.”

Prophetic words as Sandy Creek beat Carver 49-14 in the semifinals before the rematch with Cedar Grove.

Since the 2012 4A title, Sandy Creek has not been deeper than a semifinals appearance in 2019, its last season in 4A before joining 3A. Last season, the Patriots lost out in the first round to Dawson County 36-27, making this championship even more meaningful.

But for Garvin – who took over the head coaching job in 2017 — his family ties run deep at Sandy Creek, a place where his son was once quarterback. The emotions surrounding the win were something GPB’s Jon Nelson tried to take advantage of in the post-game interview and his fishing for a bit of emotion on the GPB broadcast drew some heartfelt laughs.

“It is dream come true and I couldn’t ask for a better story,” Garvin said while answering Nelson’s emotionally loaded question. “But you’re not going to get me.”

Class 7A

Mill Creek 70, Carrollton 35

Mill Creek jumped out to a 49-28 halftime lead in the Class 7A championship and ran away with a historic 70-35 win over Carrollton to capture its first-ever state title and close out championship weekend in emphatic fashion. Mill Creek took an early 14-0 lead with a 66-yard Cam Robinson touchdown run and a blocked field goal by Jamal Anderson that he returned 88 yards for a score. Anderson’s special teams’ touchdown came with 1:36 left in the first quarter and the two teams would find the endzone 4 more times in the next 55 seconds of the clock.

Carrollton quarterback Julian Lewis racked up 391 yards and four touchdowns in the first half—all to different targets. Kiyun Cofer’s 27-yard touchdown reception came with 1:18 left in the first quarter and Mill Creek’s Makhail Wood returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for the score to put the Hawks up 21-7 with 1:06 left in the first quarter. Two plays later, Bryce Hicks broke off an 80-yard touchdown reception from Lewis to cut Mill Creek’s lead to 21-14, but Mill Creek quarterback Hayden Clark found Justin Content (80 yards) on the next play to grow the lead to 28-14 with 41 seconds left in the first. Five-star Caleb Downs celebrated his birthday by rushing in three touchdowns in the second quarter (6, 2, 3 yards) as the Hawks’ offense continued to run a clinic on the Trojans’ defense. Lewis kept his team in the game with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Odom and a late 22-yard pass to Takare Lipscomb to keep the Trojans within three touchdowns heading into the second half. Mill Creek had 359 yards in the first half to Carrollton’s 415 yards and Clark went 5-of-9 for 153 yards and also had 60 yards on the ground.

Carrollton struck first in the second half with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Hicks, but the Hawks responded with 21 unanswered points that included Robinson’s second and third touchdown of the night and a 48-yard Kevin Mitchell touchdown run with 1:36 left to ice the game. Mill Creek’s 70-35 over Carrollton is the highest-scoring state championship game in Georgia history and the Hawks smashed their all-time record for points in a season by finishing the year with 712 total.

“This is a tremendous team and they came out and played outstanding in all three phases,” said Mill Creek head coach Josh Lovelady. “They worked hard all year to get better and they responded to the loss to Buford, because that did not sit well with them. They were mad about the result and just were determined to win each time they went out on the field.”

Mill Creek finished with 597 total yards and had 406 rushing yards off 45 attempts (9 ypc). Carrollton finished with 568 yards of offense and 531 of those came through the air. The freshman Lewis finished 25-of-46 passing and five touchdowns. Mill Creek running back Cam Robinson earned Player of the Game and racked up 252 yards off 27 carries to go with his three touchdowns. Defensively Trajen Greco and Content each tallied an interception and Langston Agee matched Downs with a team-high six tackles.  Clark led Mill Creek with 10-of-16 passing for 191 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Class 5A 

Ware County 38, Warner Robins 13 

Ware County defeats two-time defending state champion Warner Robins 38-13 to hoist their first state title in school history and complete an undefeated season at 14-0. Ware County came out the gates swinging, jumping out to an early 14-0 lead six minutes into the game. Their offense had 474 yards of total offense, with a balanced attack of 256 yards through the air and 218 on the ground.

The blitz continued on defense for the Gators as Warner Robins had little to no answers offensively, averaging just 3.1 yards per play in the 1st half. Warner Robins scored on a trick play that saw wide receiver Cam Flowers throw a touchdown pass to quarterback Isiah Cannon, who would be their only points in the first half. Despite the Red Demons’ defense forcing two turnovers in the first half (an interception and a fumble), the offense couldn’t muster any points off turnovers. Ware County scored ten points unanswered to close the half with a 24-6 lead. Dae’juan Dennis had two rushing touchdowns, one for three yards and the other for 41 yards, and finished with 98 yards on the ground.

Warner Robins responded in the second half. Their defense forced two tackles for loss and an interception in the opening drive that injected some life into the team. The very next play, Cannon threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Aamir Quick to cut the deficit to 24-13, but Ware County was simply on another level tonight. The Gator defense clamped down after that point, forced two more turnovers, and shut out the Warner Robins offense On the ensuing drive, Niko Smith threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Washington and, a few drives later, a 39-yard strike to Jarvis Haynes to take a 38-13 commanding lead. Haynes had six catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns and won the Cotton Commissioner player of the game. Ware County receivers were constantly winning in one-on-one situations with Warner Robins secondary all night.

The impact the Ware County defense had in this game can’t be overstated. The Gators forced four turnovers and held a Warner Robins offense averaging 34 points per game in the playoffs to just 13 points. Trey Hargrove was one of the reasons why. The senior had a big game forcing two fumbles in the game and creating pressure all night long. It was a dominant effort on both sides of the ball for Ware County.

Ware County head coach Jason Strickland talked about the accountability and standard his players set forth that helped Ware County win the first state title ever.

“We had an incredible group of seniors that had one heck of a chip on their shoulder. You want to talk about accountability; they held us coaches to a higher standard,” said Strickland. “Every moment of every day, they thought they could get better. They are still going to be griping about something tonight, but I know at the end of it, we are going to call you state champion.”

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