In a tie game, late in the fourth quarter, with a region championship on the line and the ball in his team’s possession, Stephenson head coach Ron Gartrell did what Ron Gartrell teams do.
Run the ball. Even as the clock kept ticking, the Jaguars kept running. Until it was time to throw.
A physical running game and two big pass plays – one a completion and one a pass interference call – set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Deondre Jackson with :10 seconds remaining in regulation, to give Stephenson a 13-7 win over DeKalb County rival Tucker, and the Region 4-AAAAAA championship.
It was the Jaguars’ second straight region title and the second consecutive time they did it with a win over Tucker in the last week of the regular season.
“Hats off to Tucker,” Gartrell said. “They have a great team. Well coached, and they came to play tonight. They battled hard all night. It was one of those games where you hate to see someone lose. I’m just glad it was us who came out with the win.”
Tucker tied the game at 7-7 with a little less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone. A face mask call on Tucker on the ensuing kickoff gave Stephenson the ball at its 37-yard line.
The Jaguars proceeded to run the ball eight straight times, converting two third downs in the process. Then on second-and-six from the Tucker 37-yard line and the clock inside of a minute, junior quarterback Jo-Jo Jackson hit senior defensive back/receiver Javier Morton on a deep out for a 13-yard gain to 24-yard line and a first down. On the next play, Jackson tried to hit Morton again down the far sideline. The Tucker defender was called for pass interference, moving the ball to the 12-yard line. On the next play, Jackson sped around the right side and skipped into the end zone for the game winning score.
“At some point in games like this, somebody has to step up and make a play,” Gartrell said. “Morton made two big plays with the catch and then drawing the pass interference call. Deontre ran really hard all night. We started calling more bellies and our offensive line stepped up well.”
The game was another classic match up between the counties’ most successful programs, both of which hang their hats on running the ball and touch defense. Both aspects were on display as both teams had limited success on offense. A 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter by Ryan Ingram gave Stephenson a 7-0 lead at the half.
The front seven of both squads continued to dominate in the third quarter as well. Ingram and Jackson would pick up four, five, and six-yard gains. But when it came time to convert, the Tucker defense would bow its neck and get off the field.
Tucker’s offense had a tougher time moving the ball. The defense gave the offense a big opportunity midway through the third quarter, but the Tigers couldn’t capitalize. With just over seven minutes left in the third quarter, Tucker stripped Jackson and recovered the ball at the Stephenson 27-yard line. But the offensive series produced a negative running play, two incomplete passes and two penalties, and Tucker punted the ball away.
It looked as if Tucker would squander another scoring opportunity with seven minutes left in the fourth, when Ingram fumbled after taking a big hit and Tucker recovered on the Stephenson 44-yard line. But on the first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Myles Crawley’s deep pass down the near sideline was intercepted at the Jaguars’ 4-yard line by junior Dorian Helm.
But once again, Tucker’s defense stepped up and forced Stephenson to punt from their end zone. That set up the blocked punt and recovery in the end zone. But Stephenson responded with their game-winning drive, giving the program its 10th region title.
The Jaguars (9-1) will host the Bradwell Institute of Hinesville, the four seed from Region 2. Tucker (6-4) will travel south to face Glynn Academy, the two seed from Region 2.
Stephenson 0 7 0 6 13
Tucker 0 0 0 7 7
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.