You would think a program that has won four region championships and two state titles in the past five seasons wouldn’t have much to prove.
But that is not the case at Cedar Grove, and with an assist from the internet, Peach County found out the hard way, Friday night at Buck Godfrey Stadium in Ellenwood.
The Saints (12-1) bludgeoned the visiting Trojans from Fort Valley, 36-3, spurred on by their hunger to prove that they are one of the state’s top programs and a media clip that found its way to the phones of Cedar Grove coaches and players.
“Someone sent us a video from the news where they were saying that we were a team that didn’t like to tackle,” Cedar Grove head coach Miquel Patrick said. “We wanted to show that we don’t shy away from contact at all. We pride ourselves on being physical.”
Peach County (11-2) came into the game with one of the state’s most productive offenses, having put up 554 points and scoring 40 or more in seven games. But the rematch of last year’s Class AAA title game, which Cedar Grove won on a touchdown pass to Jaden Haselwood, now the fourth-leading receiver at Oklahoma, did not live up to the tightly contested game everyone envisioned.
“I think a lot of people underestimated the depth and quality of our program. We graduated a lot of really good players from last year and we have a new coach,” said Patrick, who took over for Jimmy Smith, now an assistant on the staff at Georgia State. “But we have a lot of hungry kids in this program, even some sophomores and freshman who are stepping up and making plays for us.”
Leading 7-3 midway through the second quarter, Cedar Grove’s vaunted defense went on the offensive.
The Trojans began a drive on their own 20 yard line and quickly moved into Saints’ territory, mixing quick passes from senior quarterback Jaydon Gibson and tough runs by senior Noah Whittington.
Peach County appeared to have picked up another first down when sophomore Zion Shaw got the corner on a jet sweep and gained 10 yards. But junior safety Jordan Grier took the ball from Shaw and raced down the near sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. The conversion pass attempt failed, but the Saints pushed their lead to 13-3.
Then on the second play of the Trojans’ next possession, the Saints dialed up a six-man pressure and Gibson’s pass was intercepted by junior defensive lineman Demarius Jackson, who returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to make the score 20-3 at halftime.
Peach County appeared to have caught a break to begin the third quarter, when sophomore running back Rashod Dubinion caught the kickoff and stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line. But the Saints physical running game quickly flipped the field as junior quarterback Austin Smith, Dubinion and senior running back Chavon Wright ripped the Trojans for huge gains. Wright scored on a 28-yard run but it was nullified by a holding call and Cedar Grove eventually turned the ball over on downs at the Peach County 17-yard line.
The Trojans went three-and-out and Cedar Grove took over on its 47 yard line. After a 45-yard run by Wright on first down, Dubinion scored on the next play as he rode a mosh pit into the end zone from the 8-yard line, to push the lead to 27-3 late in the third quarter.
“We were moving it well in the first half but the fumble return and the pick six really hurt us,” Peach County head coach Chad Campbell said. “Take nothing away from them. They have a really good team. But when we got down we were forced out of our element, and they were just able to pin their ears back.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Saints added a safety and a 3-yard touchdown run by Langston White to cap an 11-play, 58-yard drive.
“We as coaches say we run a ‘spread-T’,” Patrick said of the Saints physical running game. “We can spread you out, but at the end of the day we want to run it right down your throat. We have a great line, and four really good backs.”
And according to Patrick, the offense can be even better.
“We’re a little hurt at receiver now,” he said. “But once we get healthy there, we’ll show that we can throw it around, too.”
The Saint’s will host Greater Atlanta Christian (12-1) in the semifinals next week, as the Spartans rallied to knock out Hart County (10-3), 17-16.
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