It was a catch that delivered a state championship, and perhaps a state player-of-the-year award with it.
Not that Jadon Haselwood’s play during the 2018 season wasn’t already great. The Cedar Grove senior — the consensus No. 1 recruit in Georgia and No. 1 wide receiver in the nation — was an impact player on offense, defense and special teams this high school season.
All he needed was an exclamation point.
The moment came with his team trailing Peach County 13-7 in the Class AAA championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 11. The play was a third-and-goal from the 22-yard line. There were 10 seconds left.
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Lined up in the slot, Haselwood ran a double route that took him over the middle just beyond the goal line. Kendall Boney’s pass was true, and Haselwood leaped and made the snag against one of the state’s tighter defenses.
Cedar Grove won 14-13.
“He loves the moment,” Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith said. “If he was a basketball player, he’s the kind of guy who’ll laugh at you before he shoots a 3. It’s no pressure for him. He likes to show you how good he is. He’d never ask me for the ball, but he’ll smile and wink, and I knew what that meant.”
It was a movie ending for Haselwood, who wore the jersey No. 11 instead of his own No. 2 in honor of former teammate Trevon Richardson, who was killed on Memorial Day. Haselwood was a pall bearer at the funeral and stopped by Richardson’s grave near Cedar Grove High the morning of the game.
“I wore Trevon’s jersey today and made a big catch to win the game,” Haselwood told DawgNation after the game. “That’s like a dream come true.”
And later he took to Twitter: “Beautiful throw from @kendallboney and the protection from our linemen. I wouldn’t change a thing, not even taking my helmet off after I scored (and) if you are from Cedar Grove y’all knew who I did it for.”
For the season, Haselwood caught 53 passes for 1,032 yards and 11 touchdowns in a run-first offense. Some thought he was better on defense as a 6-foot-3, 215-pound safety. He made 27 tackles and returned two interceptions 60 and 74 yards for touchdowns. He returned punts 80 and 70 yards for touchdowns. His 58-yard return of a kickoff to the Peach County 37-yard line set up his championship-winning catch.
Pierce County coach Brad Webber, whose previously undefeated team lost to Cedar Grove in the semifinals, said Haselwood’s individual statistics didn’t tell the story. Pierce County double-teamed Haselwood and shaded a third man his way, and Cedar Grove rushed for 310 yards on 29 attempts.
“His impact is tremendous on the offense as defenses must find game-plans to stop him, which include doubling, spying, etc., which loosens up the defense in other areas,” Webber said. “In the championship game, he played both sides of the ball. He tackled well, and he made some tremendous blocks. A lot of great offensive players aren’t willing to do that. They just want to make TD catches.”
Westminster coach Gerry Romberg, whose team faced Cedar Grove in each of the past four seasons, said Haselwood was as good as any high school player he’d seen in his 27 years of coaching.
“I’d say he’s the best at impacting a game by far,” Romberg said. “I don’t see a weakness in his game in any area – defense, offense, running routes. I’ve never seen a wide receiver block like he blocks. He’s so physical.’’
Romberg said he and his coaching staff had a fun debate about who would win the Peach County-Cedar Grove game. Westminster had played and lost to both teams. Romberg ultimately settled on Cedar Grove for one reason.
“When it’s two evenly matched teams, somebody has to be the difference-maker, and he’s the one who’s going to make the play,’’ Romberg said. “The ball is going to find him.”
And it did.
“Jadon is just rare,” Cedar Grove’s Smith said. “He’s a great combination of size, routes, great hands, unselfishness, great work ethic. He attacks the ball well. You usually don’t get all that in one guy. Throughout the four years he was here, we saw it all.”