The Dublin Fighting Irish won a 42-32 slugfest over the Brooks County Trojans without attempting a pass, scoring six rushing touchdowns spread across three running backs and their quarterback to claim the Class AA championship on Friday at Georgia State Stadium.
With the win, the No. 5-ranked Fighting Irish (14-1), the top seed from Region 3, claim their first title since splitting AA with Charlton County in 2006, and their first outright title since winning Class A in 1963. It’s their fifth title overall in a program that dates back to 1919.
The No. 7 Trojans, a No. 2 seed from Region 1, see their season end at 10-5.
“I’ve got to give it to God, bro,” said Fighting Irish quarterback Markelle Mitchell, a junior who scored on touchdown runs of 2 and 55 yards. “It’s him. I wasn’t even the starter at the beginning of the season...God got me here, so it feels good.”
The Fighting Irish, who are almost exclusively a run team out of the Wing-T — they attempted just 34 passes all season compared to 696 carries — were led by JaQues Evans’ 185 yards on 40 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run. Mitchell had 94 yards and two scores on nine carries, Zion Kemp had 86 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, and Marcus Adams had 70 yards and a score on 10 carries.
Dublin controlled time of possession 35:28 to 12:32 and totaled 437 rushing yards on 73 carries.
Evans, Kemp and Adams — all seniors — served as the three-back committee that carried the offense all season long.
“They’re great and the offensive line makes it easier for them,” said Fighting Irish coach Roger Holmes, who has coached the team since 2002. “All three of those kids are tremendous. They don’t care about who has the success. As the season has developed, they’ve understood that one night it might be one man’s night, the next night it might be another’s, because (opposing defenses) can’t take all three of them away.”
The Fighting Irish struck first when Qua Ashley intercepted Brooks County on the second play of the game, returning it 15 yards to the Trojans 14. Five plays later, Evans would run up the middle 4 yards for the score to make it 6-0.
The Trojans would answer with touchdowns on their next two drives — one on an Omari Arnold 9-yard rush out of the wildcat, the other on a 72-yard pass by Ni’Tavion Burrus to Devin Edwards — to make it 14-6 after the first quarter.
The Fighting Irish responded with a John Potter 32-yard field goal with 4:36 left in the half and had the chance to score again right before halftime, but the Trojans defense stopped them six times inside the Brooks County 10, including three times from the 1. They stuffed Evans for no gain on third down with seconds remaining, and with Dublin out of timeouts the clock ran out, ending a 17-play, 81-yard drive that chewed the final 7:24 of the half.
A wild third quarter produced a total of 31 points, beginning with a 43-yard Adams touchdown run for Dublin. The Trojans would answer on Dublin’s next drive when it was ruled that Adams fumbled as he was being tackled — replays were inconclusive — and the Trojans’ Tyrek Thomas scooped the ball and returned it 96 yards to give Brooks County a 20-15 lead with 5:58 left in the third.
“We go through adversity and things come up,” Mitchell said. “One thing about us is we’re going to stick together. We knew (Adams) was down, but the refs didn’t call that and we were fine with it. The next play, we moved on.”
On the Fighting Irish’s ensuing drive, they used eight plays to drive 41 yards, scoring on Mitchell’s 2-yard run as they took the lead for good with 3:50 left in the third. Brooks County would lose a fumble on the next play from scrimmage, with Dublin linebacker and Miami commit Romello Height recovering it on the Brooks County 5.
“Defense wins championships,” said Height who finished with two tackles, one for a loss.
Zion Kemp rushed 5 yards for the touchdown on the next play to put the Fighting Irish up 28-20, but the Trojans responded two plays later when Arnold ran 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, making it 28-26 with 1:21 left in the third.
The Fighting Irish would open the fourth-quarter scoring with a 55-yard run from Mitchell, and the Trojans would respond their next drive on Arnold’s third score, this from 9 yards out for their final points of the game.
Dublin would all but seal the game on third-and-2 with Kemp’s 19-yard touchdown run with 1:51 remaining to bring the score to its final margin. That capped a nine-play, 62-yard drive that ate 5:43 and was extended by Evans’ 8-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Trojans’ 42.
JT Wright’s interception for Dublin on Brooks County’s next possession, with 1:37 left, ended any hope the Trojans had of mounting an improbable comeback.
The Fighting Irish were able to win the championship despite graduating last season’s three featured running backs and three-year starting quarterback.
“But we had four of our five offensive linemen back so we felt like that could be the key,” Holmes said.
In addition, after Kendell Wade emerged from an offseason quarterback competition with Mitchell, Wade broke his leg and ankle in the second game and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Mitchell was thrust into the starter’s role and thrived.
“I had to lead the way,” he said. “It was just more adversity for the team.”
The Trojans were seeking their first title since 1994, when they won Class A in the first season of coach Maurice Freeman’s head coaching career. That remains the program’s only title since it began in 1959. Freeman would leave the Trojans in 1997 for stints at Southwest Macon and Brunswick before returning in 2008.
“We made too many mistakes in the second half,” Freeman said.
Despite the disappointing finish, Freeman was proud of the way his team rebounded from a 1-3 start to reach their first title game in 25 years.
“We’re fighters,” he said. “Our guys are tough and I wouldn’t have any other team than this one. Right there at the end we just didn’t do what we normally do.”
The Trojans were led by Arnold’s 94 yards and three scores on 10 carries. Edwards finished with 92 yards and a score on two catches. Thomas had a game-high 13.5 tackles, followed by Camron Priest’s 10.
This was the final season in AA for both programs, as the GHSA has reclassified them to Class A-Public.
Brooks County 14 0 12 6 — 32
Dublin 6 3 19 14 — 42
D — JaQues Evans 4 run (pass failed)
B — Omari Arnod 9 run (Reagan Chastain kick)
B — Devin Edwards 72 pass from Ni’tavion Burrus (Chastain kick)
D — John Potter 32 FG
D — Marcus Adams 43 run (run failed)
B — Tyrek Thomas 96 yard fumble return (run failed)
D — Markelle Mitchell 2 run (pass failed)
D — Zion Kemp 5 run (Potter kick)
B — Arnold 65 run (pass failed)
D — Mitchell 55 run (Potter kick)
B — Arnold 9 run (kick failed)
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