It was third-and-8 in the third overtime and the Bainbridge defense was fighting for its life. When Warner Robins quarterback Tyler Fromm dropped back to throw, sophomore Tahari Tate had only one thing in mind.
“I saw the quarterback. I saw the ball. I wanted to get him,” Tate said.
Tate wrapped his arms around Fromm for a 7-yard sack and Fromm’s pass on the final play missed the intended receiver. Only then could the Bainbridge defense relax, some falling to the turf in relief, others jumping high in celebration. The Bearcats had nailed down a 47-41 triple overtime win for the Class AAAAA championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Tuesday.
“Unbelievable,” said Bainbridge coach Jeff Littleton, who clutched the silver state championship trophy in his hands. “They’ve done it all year. We bailed ourselves out of situations all year long with our defense. The offense makes plays when they have to and when they don’t, our defense picks us up.”
The defense harassed Fromm all night. Even though the Region 1 Player of the Year completed 27 of 52 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns, he was sacked three times and forced into throwing two interceptions.
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Perhaps the best moment for the Bainbridge defense came after Warner Robins’ Ke’Shawn Duvall had intercepted a Quayde Hawkins pass and returned it to the Bainbridge 17 with 19 seconds left. The Bearcats thwarted Warner Robins on two plays and forced a 27-yard field goal try from Samariy Howard, which was blocked by the big hands of Tennessee commit Roman Harrison.
That forced overtime. The first two extra periods ended with field goals, Howard kicked two for the Demons and Caleb Harris kicked two for the Bearcats.
The winning points came in the third extra period. On third-and-2, Hawkins sold a fake handoff to Caleb McDowell and took off over the right guard’s shoulder for a 7-yard touchdown.
“They’d been keying off (McDowell) all year,” Hawkins said. “They knew he was going to get the ball. They’d been coming off the edge hard all night and I was waiting for my chance and it paid off.”
From there the game was in the hands of the Bainbridge defense and they delivered.
“We rallied around our defense,” Hawkins said. “Our defense has played great all year.”
Bainbridge scored the first 28 points of the game to stun the Demons.
Anthony Brooks returned a punt 25 yards for a touchdown, then Bryce Worthy had a 32-yard pick-six. Aaron Spivey caught a 24-yard halfback option pass from Caleb McDowell to give Bainbridge a 21-point outburst that occured within two minutes.
Bainbridge scored again on a 9-yard McDowell run, a touchdown set up by a 48-yard pass from Hawkins to Spivey.
Warner Robins scored on a 4-yard run by Jahlen Rutherford midway in the second quarter to cut the halftime margin to 28-7.
Deyon Bouie started the second half with a 30-yard interception return to push the Bainbridge lead back to 35-7, but the Demons responded with four unanswered touchdowns. Marcall Jones caught a 9-yard pass from Fromm, Rutherford scored on a 1 yard run, Fromm caught a 12-yard option pass from his brother Tyler, and Ty Carr caught a 3-yard touchdown pass.
The Bainbridge defense kept relentless pressure on Fromm in the first half and gained their second wind late in the game enough to survive. Tate had two tackles and Eric Sanders had another. Randy Fillingame had 13 tackles, one for loss, and recovered a fumble. Harrison had eight tackles and blocked a kick. Bryce Worthy had eight tackles, broke up two passes and intercepted a pass. Bouie also had an interception.
Unranked Bainbridge (10-5) turned around its season after a 2-4 start and won eight of its last nine. The victory avenged a 38-0 regular-season setback to Warner Robins.
The Bearcats defeated five state-ranked teams on the way to the school’s first title since 1982: No. 8 Jones County 40-13, No. 5 Wayne County 26-19, No. 2 Buford 23-20 and No. 6 Stockbridge 20-19 and No. 3 Warner Robins.
“They believe in our process and they work the process,” Littleton said. “The process is no good without them ding and believing. It’s just a testament to these kids.”
The Demons (12-3) finished second in the state for the second straight year.