The Class A public high school football championship trophy is coming to The O. That’s Ocilla, Georgia – population 3,627, give or take.
The last time Irwin County finished the season undefeated (13-0) in 1975, the Indians won the state title. Forty-four years later, Irwin County is 13-0 and once again state champs.
The Indians were too big, strong, fast and physical for Marion County and romped to a 56-14 win in the Class A public final at Georgia State Stadium on Saturday.
“This is a team of destiny,” Irwin County head coach Buddy Nobles, said afterward. “If there is a better Class A team in the history of Georgia high school football, I want to see them.”
In six seasons, Nobles, who is battling Stage 4 stomach cancer, has led the Indians to the state finals five times. Saturday, the Indians would not be denied.
The game turned on three consecutive turnovers that Irwin forced at the beginning of the third quarter.
Marion County trailed 28-14 at the half despite moving the ball with some consistency on Irwin’s stingy defense. The Eagles’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Indians’ first possession of the second half, and Marion County took over at its 22-yard line after a punt.
The Eagles moved near midfield when the officials ruled senior quarterback/defensive back Trice McCannon’s pass attempt was a fumble, as he eluded Irwin defenders in the backfield. The Indians recovered and on the first play from scrimmage, senior Jamorri Colson took a toss sweep to the left 45 yards for a touchdown to push the Irwin County lead to 35-14.
On Marion County’s next possession, wildcat quarterback Brandon Thomas and running back Dayterious Chinn mishandled the ball at the mesh point of a zone read and Irwin recovered at the Marion County 34-yard line. On the Indians’ first play, quarterback Zach Thomas threw a lateral to Gabriel Benyard, who found Colson in the middle of the field at the Eagles’ 5-yard line. Colson out-jumped a Marion defender for the ball and skipped into the end zone, making the score 42-14.
The final blow in the 21-0 run was a 15-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Zack Smith to Benyard on a corner route to the near pylon. The touchdown came on after the Eagles’ third straight turnover, a tipped screen pass that was intercepted by junior linebacker Kam Ward.
“The ball bounced our way because these guys made plays,” Nobles said. “They did a great job, a phenomenal job all year. These kids are ballers.”
“It feels unbelievable,” senior two-way lineman Marquez Johnson said. “All my brothers, the seniors. We all came together to provide leadership, and coach Nobles told us to always fight. We saw the way he has been fighting all year, and to see that, it made us fight even harder.”
Irwin struck as quickly as it possibly could when on the first play from scrimmage to open the game as Benyard sprinted 77 yards down the far sideline for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
On Marion’s ensuing possession, Irwin cornerback Jordan Payne stepped in front of a hitch intended for Trent Waycaster, and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. It was the 68th point Irwin’s defense has scored this season, compared to giving up just 56 points coming into the game.
But just as it looked like the Indians were about to steamroll Marion, the Eagles’ defense got a stop on Irwin’s next possession. The offense made it count with a quick six-play, 72-yard scoring drive. McCannon found sophomore Markevious Kelley in the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead down to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Irwin again looked as if it would end the game in the first half, when the Indians scored on back to back possessions and increased their lead to 28-7. First, Benyard scored on a nine-yard run. On Marion’s next possession, junior safety Derrick Taylor grabbed Irwin’s second interception. Two plays into the Indians’ offensive possession, senior running back/linebacker D.J. Lundy bolted up the middle, hit the near sideline and outran the Marion secondary for a 65-yard touchdown with a little over five minutes to play in the half.
The Eagles would not go away. McCannon kept the ball on a zone read, hit the far sideline and sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown to cut the Irwin lead in half, 28-14.
Early in the third quarter, Payne suffered what appeared to be a neck injury while making a tackle. The game was delayed several minutes as trainers attended to Payne, who moved his legs and arms slightly. He was taken off the field on a stretcher. Immediately after the game, Irwin coaches said they did not have an update on his condition.
Irwin County 14 14 21 7 - 56
Marion County 7 7 0 0 - 14
IC – Gabriel Benyard 77 run (Evan Ross kick)
IC – Jordan Payne 30 interception return (Ross kick)
MC – Markevious Kelley 23 pass from Trice McCannon (Jabin Vincente kick)
IC – Benyard 9 run (Ross kick)
IC – D.J. Lundy 65 run (Ross kick)
MC – McCannon 66 run (Vincente kick)
IC – Jamorri Colson 45 run (Ross kick)
IC – Colson 34 pass from Zach Smith (Ross kick)
IC – Benyard 15 pass from Smith (Ross kick)
IC – Smith 3 run (Ross kick)
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