I was standing on the sidelines of the Georgia Dome on Dec. 11, 2015 watching Blessed Trinity taking on Westminster in its first-ever appearance in a championship game. The Titans were in Class AAA at the time, and appeared to be within reach of their first state title when they took a 14-point lead on two separate occasions in the second half. Westminster’s improbable comeback, however, would begin with a touchdown that cut it to 31-24 with 3:52 left in the game. The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Titans’ 21-yard line and then tied it up on the following play with a 21-yard rushing touchdown to force overtime. In the extra period, Westminster scored on its first possession and then clinched the the victory with a recovered Titans fumble—dishing Blessed Trinity a heartbreaking defeat.
Westminster remained in Class AAA, but Blessed Trinity was moved up to Class AAAA following the conclusion of the 2015-16 school year, where they have competed for the past four seasons. Today’s Class AAAA blog is the last football blog I will be writing regarding the Titans as they get set to compete in Class AAAAA starting next season, and I wanted to use it to put the program’s accomplishments over these last four seasons into perspective.
TURNING THE PAGE…
The same Blessed Trinity program that saw its championship slip away in the 2015 finals began building its confidence and making noise with a young core of budding stars in 2016. The team closed out the regular season 8-2, with both losses coming to out-of-state opponents, and its only in-state loss came in the quarterfinals (28-27) to a senior-laden Mary Persons team. Reigning state champion Cartersville topped Mary Persons the next round and went on to win the 2016 title and the Purple Hurricanes were heavy favorites to win a third-straight AAAA crown in 2017 as record-setting Five-Star Quarterback Trevor Lawrence returned for his senior season.
A regular season loss to Marist gave Blessed Trinity the No. 2 seed entering the 2017 playoffs and their positioning in the bracket resulted in a second-round trip to Cartersville, which entered the matchup with a 41-game winning streak that included outscoring its previous nine opponents by a whopping 46.1 points per game. Second halves with running clocks were much more familiar to the Purple Hurricanes than the 14-3 lead that Blessed Trinity opened the second half with. Nonetheless, Cartersville was able to climb its way back and clung to a 17-14 lead with under a minute to play as Blessed Trinity marched into field goal range.
The Titans made it to the Cartersville 26-yard line and felt that they were in position to tie the game with a field goal, but head coach Tim McFarlin saw an opportunity to go for the win instead and he went for it.
“We felt like we could take a shot and still have time to attempt a field goal,” explained McFarlin. “That was the advantage we had.”
Ryan Davis went out wide as the only receiver on the play. Titans quarterback Jake Smith took the snap and immediately rolled right as a pack of purple jerseys closely followed. Davis used a double-move to separate himself from the coverage and hauled in Smith’s deep ball in the back right corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left to give Blessed Trinity the 21-17 victory. The Titans’ defense continued to dominate the remainder of the 2017 playoffs and they would defeat Thomson (43-13), Mary Persons (28-7) and Marist (16-7) to win the program’s first-ever state title.
The expectations were incredibly high for the program when the same core group of guys that led Blessed Trinity to the 2017 title returned to lead the Titans as seniors in 2018. After opening the season with four non-region victories, Blessed Trinity limited its six region opponents to just 7.1 points per game en route to the Region 7-AAAA title and a No. 1 seed. Once the Titans reached the playoffs they were unstoppable, taking down Northwest Whitfield, North Oconee, Eastside, Troup and Cartersville with a 24.2 average margin of victory to defend their crown and close out the program’s first perfect season.
Blessed Trinity opened the 2019 season as AAAA’s back-to-back state champions, but the graduation of players like All-American Steele Chambers, wide receiver Ryan Davis, quarterback Jake Smith, defensive lineman JR Bivens and Notre Dame signee JD Bertrand left a lot of questions that the team would have to figure out to maintain its championship success.
Injuries, especially running back Elijah Greene’s early in the season made the challenge even steeper for Blessed Trinity, but the Titans adapted and were able to close out a 9-1 regular season that earned them the No. 1 seed and Region 7-AAAA title. With Greene healthy to run in tandem with freshman Justice Haynes, Blessed Trinity’s offense was peaking once the playoffs started and its defense continued to give them a chance in every ball game.
The team sent a message with a 40-14 first-round victory over Troup and then they scored a 35-3 win over Baldwin and a 31-0 win over West Laurens to set up a showdown with undefeated Woodward Academy, which served them their only previous loss in a 13-10 Sept. 9 defeat. Greene, which missed the previous meeting with the War Eagles posted 191 yards and three touchdowns off 23 carries and Haynes rushed for 148 yards and a score off 19 carries as the Titans punched their return ticket to the finals with a 46-21 win.
Blessed Trinity got paired up against a red-hot Oconee County team in the finals. On paper, the game was contrast of styles before it even kicked off with the Titans’ potent ground game and Oconee County’s aerial offense, led by LSU-commit and quarterback Max Johnson.
Blessed Trinity’s opening drive of the AAAA state championship was capped with a 34-yard field goal, but Oconee County answered as the lefty Johnson hurled a 34-yard touchdown pass to West Weeks to give the Warriors a 7-3 lead. The score held until late in the second quarter, when Blessed Trinity’s ability to close out halves with supreme execution put them in front. Greene’s 30-yard touchdown run put the Titans up 10-7 with just 1:21 left in the half. Oconee County took over at its own 35-yard line, but was forced to punt. Blessed Trinity’s used two timeouts and got the ball back with 48 seconds left at its own 34-yard line. Greene took the next snap 66 yards for the score and the Titans went into the half leading 17-7.
As impressive as Blessed Trinity’s execution at the end of the first half was, the way they closed out the championship in the fourth quarter is what I would consider to be the the signature moment of Blessed Trinity’s entire four-year run in Class AAAA.
Blessed Trinity was struggling on third down conversions throughout the game and Oconee County finally was able to cut into the lead—scoring on a 3-yard Johnson pass to Jake Johnson with 49 seconds left in the third quarter to make it a 17-14 ball game. From that moment to the final buzzer, Blessed Trinity would run 20 offensive plays to the Warriors’ three.
Blessed Trinity punted it back to Oconee County with 10:33 left in the game and then forced a punt that gave the ball back to the Titans at their own 10-yard line with 8:57 on the clock. From there, Blessed Trinity orchestrated a brilliant 17-play drive that ran off the entire remainder of the game. Five first downs and two successfully-attempted fourth-downs led the Titans all the way to the Oconee County 1-yard line where they closed out the championship with a pair of victory formation kneels.
Realizing that I had just witnessed one of the best, and well-executed, drives to close out a football game, let alone a state championship, that I had ever seen, I thought back to that first championship appearance in 2015 and how incredibly far the program had grown in the years since.
Best of luck in Class AAAAA next season to the Titans and congrats on your tremendous run in Class AAAA.
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