Cedar Grove's Isaiah Ratcliff celebrates with the trophy.
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Class AAA: Cedar Grove 21, Crisp County 14

Even with a new coach, it was the same result for a Cedar Grove program that successfully defended its 2018 Class AAA state championship Saturday with a 21-14 victory over Crisp County at Georgia State Stadium.

So is it time to start talking about a high school football dynasty?

“The 2019-2020 class can use that word," said first-year coach Miguel Patrick, who replaced a departing Jimmy Smith, who became an assistant at Georgia State. "They won three titles in four years. This senior class can use that word, yes, that they are a dynasty.”

Cedar Grove missed the playoffs from 2000-2009, but in the past decade the Saints have been in the playoffs each season. They won their first title in 2016 after beating Greater Atlanta Christian 30-19. Cedar Grove won the state title last season with a 14-13 victory against Peach County, when Jadon Haselwood caught a touchdown pass with seconds left in the game.

An assistant at Cedar Grove since 2007, Patrick was joined on the sidelines by Smith, who wanted to see the Saints win their third championship. Cedar Grove running back Chavon Wright said there wasn’t much of a transition period.

“Naw, that’s nothing new; (Patrick) has been here,” Wright said. “Nothing new at all. That’s our guy; that’s been our guy. It is normal; it’s regular.”

Cedar Grove's play against Crisp County didn’t always look dynastic. The Cougars came out with a smothering defense that held a Jenkins program averaging 40 points per game to six points in the semifinals. Crisp County kept the Saints scoreless through two three-and-out series, while allowing just 11 yards, but Cedar Grove’s defense was equally as tough. In the second quarter, Demarius Jackson and David Carter stopped a Cougars drive at the goal line, forcing a turnover on downs that seemed to change the momentum of the game.

Photos from the state championship games

Cedar Grove scored first on a Wright touchdown run to cap a five-play, 58-yard drive just before halftime. The Saints then made minor adjustments to handle the Crisp County defense.

“The line just had to keep their legs moving, and the running backs had to run through some arm tackles,” Wright said. “That was basically it ... keep our legs moving and put the game away.”

“We wanted to spread them out a bit more,” Patrick added. “We were kind of compacted and made it easy for them to stop the run. So we came out and threw it on first down a bit and loosened them up, and that opened up the running lanes for us.”

The backs took advantage.

Wright, who finished with 20 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns, scored again with 6:44 left in the third quarter on an 18-yard run to cap a seven-play, 65-yard drive that put the Saints ahead 14-0.

When Crisp County’s sophomore running back Marquise Palmer broke free and scored on a 20-yard run with 18 seconds left in the third quarter, it capped a five-play, 37-yard drive to cut into the lead 14-7, but that was the last bit of offense the Cougars could manage. Cedar Grove went ahead 21-7 with 9:43 left on a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Smith to Rashad Dubinion. Crisp County scored its final touchdown when Latravious Walker returned a blocked punt for a score with 1:18 left in the game. 

Palmer finished with 19 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown.

“Crisp County is a great football team,” Dubinion said. “They came out here and played their heart out and we just played a bit harder. We are building a dynasty here. In the second half, we came out and realized that they weren’t really doing anything special, we were just out of our game and we adjusted.”

Austin Smith, who finished 9-of-14 passing for 64 yards, got quality playing time and made some big plays during last year’s championship run. But this one felt more like his title.

“It’s just good,” Smith said. “We were kind of down and looked down upon with a new coach and losing players like Jadon (Haselwood) and then losing some good players on defense, it feels good to come out and win another one for us.”

When asked early in the season about carrying on the tradition of success at Cedar Grove, Patrick was optimistic.

“I think we did pretty good, man,” Patrick said. “I think we carried it on, and I think we have a good starting point for my career and the bar has been set.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author