Every time Cedar Grove scored against McEachern in their matchup of ranked teams Friday night, the Indians had a quick answer.
Those responses and a key goal-line stand with four minutes remaining allowed Class AAAAAAA No. 9 McEachern (2-1) to hold on for a 24-17 victory over Class AAA No. 2 Cedar Grove (3-1).
All 24 of McEachern’s points came within 1:15 of a Cedar Grove scoring play that had either given the Saints the lead or tied the game.
“I like our team and how we fought and stayed together,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “Nobody panicked at all. And [Cedar Grove is] a heck of a ball club. That’s one of the most talented teams in the state of Georgia, no question about it, no matter 3A, 4A, 7A, it doesn’t matter.”
Cedar Grove’s first five drives of the second half had been four plays or less, but the Saints still had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. After recovering a fumbled punt by McEachern at the Cedar Grove 47, the Saints used four plays to reach the McEachern 3-yard line, where they had the ball first-and-goal. Three plays netted just one yard, and Kendall Boney’s pass on fourth down was incomplete.
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Cedar Grove got the ball back one last time but lost a fumble on the first play, and the Indians were able to run out the clock. Cedar Grove finished the game with 220 total yards, but only 72 came in the second half, and 54 of those came on the final drive.
“Our defensive line was dominating in that second half,” Hockman said. “They were doing a great job, and they kept doing it right there. We had one blitz where we got ‘em, but they stepped up on the fourth down. I was really proud of them.”
After Cedar Grove took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 47-yard run by Robert Jones, McEachern’s Valerian Agbaw returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to tie the game 7-7 with 7:23 remaining in the quarter.
The Saints reclaimed the lead on a 36-yard field goal by Oral Ashe with 1:20 to play in the half. But, in perhaps the most crucial turn of events in the game, McEachern scored 10 points in a 30-second stretch to go into halftime with a 17-10 lead.
Ja’leak Perry returned the kickoff after Ashe’s field goal to the Cedar Grove 38, and Jordan Simmons scored three plays later on a 19-yard pass from Carlos Delrio-Wilson for a 14-10 lead with 35 seconds to play in the half.
McEachern got the ball back again on the next play, when Cedar Grove muffed the pooch kickoff and the Indians recovered at the Saints’ 26-yard line. Roben Rodriquez’s 27-yard field goal just before halftime gave the Indians a 17-10 lead.
Cedar Grove’s only points of the second half came on a 61-yard interception early in the third quarter by Jadon Haselwood that tied the game 17-17. Haselwood, the nation’s No. 1-ranked senior wide receiver prospect, finished with six catches for 59 yards.
Again, McEachern had the answer. On the second play of its next possession, Delrio-Wilson threw his second touchdown pass to Simmons, a 70-yarder that provided the final points of the game.
The game was delayed at the start for 45 minutes because of lightning in the area, and then again midway through the first quarter when a Cedar Grove player, junior safety/linebacker Joshua Walker, suffered a medical emergency on the Saints’ sideline. Reports varied on the severity of the situation, ranging from a breathing issue to CPR having to be performed, but Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith said after the game that Walker had been transported to a hospital and was doing OK.
Delrio-Wilson was 16-of-28 passing for 245 yards to lead McEachern, which finished with 312 total yards. Simmons had four catches for 112 yards, and Paris Brown led the running game with 52 yards on 16 carries.
Cedar Grove’s Jones ran for 56 yards on eight carries, and freshman Rashod Dubinion had 54 yards on eight carries.
Cedar Grove - 7-3-7-0 - 17
McEachern - 7-10-7-0 - 24
C - Robert Jones 47 run (Oral Ashe kick), 7:37
M - Valerian Agbaw 99 kickoff return (Roben Rodriquez kick), 7:23
C - Ashe 36 field goal, 1:20
M - Jordan Simmons 19 pass from Carlos Delrio-Wilson (Rodriquez kick), 0:35
M - Rodriquez 27 field goal, 0:05
C - Jadon Haselwood 61 interception return (Ashe kick), 9:00
M - Simmons 70 pass from Delrio-Wilson (Rodriquez kick), 8:35