Blessed Trinity 28, Woodward Academy 13

High school football
High school football

Credit: For the AJC

In the age of spread, one-back formations and empty backfields, Blessed Trinity plays its offensive football in the stone age. But when you have one of the state’s best running backs and an offensive line that likes to punish people, it can work.

The Titans brand of bully ball worked to perfection on offense and defense Friday night at Woodward Academy, as Blessed Trinity (8-4), the No. 3 seed from Region 7, outmuscled the War Eagles (11-1), 28-13 at Graham Hixon Field at Colquitt Stadium in College Park.

It is the second time in three years the Titans have eliminated Woodward Academy, the Region 7 champs, from the state playoffs on their home field. Blessed Trinity defeated the War Eagles (46-21) in the 2019 semi finals before winning the program’s third consecutive state title.

Titan junior running back Justice Haynes will get a lot of the headlines as he rushed for over 200 yards and scored three touchdowns, all covering more than 60 yards. But the Blessed Trinity offensive line – led by seniors Tucker Daniels, Jack Pirinelli and Ryan Scott – lined up in tight splits and won the line of scrimmage all night, allowing Haynes to pick up chunks of yards on old school toss sweeps and off-tackles dives out of an I-formation.

Defensively, Blessed Trinity won the battle up front as well as Scott, and juniors Ryan Snipes, Kieran Davis, Mavrick Torrico and his brother Dylan, a freshman, swarmed Woodward Academy running back Damari Alston, holding the senior Auburn commit to 65 yards on 15 carries, and no scores from scrimmage.

But Alston broke lose on his first touch of the game, a 90-yard kickoff return to open the game, giving the War Eagles a 7-0 lead. Blessed Trinity wasted little time in drawing even.

On third-and-19 from the Titan’s 21-yard line, Haynes took a screen pass from senior quarterback J.C. French on the left side of the formation, picked up a couple of blocks before cutting to the middle of the field and racing 79 yards for a touchdown.

Haynes gave Blessed Trinity a 14-7 lead with two minutes left in the half when the took off up the middle of the formation and outran the War Eagle secondary for a 63-yard touchdown. But Woodward responded, executing its two-minute offense effectively as junior quarterback Jalen Woods completed four-of-five passes for 35 yards and ran for another 12 to set up senior kicker Lee Johnson for a 37-yard field goal attempt. Johnson nailed it to narrow the margin to 14-10 at the half.

Haynes gave the Titans their two-score lead right back just two plays into the third quarter. Woodward Academy jumped all over Haynes on the first play out of the locker room, tossing him for a four-yard loss. On the next play, the War Eagles looked like they had Haynes in the backfield for another negative play. Instead, Haynes stepped out of a tackle, bounced over the right side, cut back to the middle of the field and the coasted 84 yards for the score and a 21-10 Titan lead.

Then an 11-minute stretch provided served as a synopsis of the game and essentially ended it as well. After Johnson nailed a 45-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-13 and then boomed the kickoff into the endzone, Blessed Trinity took over at its 20-yard line with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. The Titans proceeded to march 80 yards on 16 plays. French scored on an 8-yard keeper to push the Titan lead to 28-13 with 6:30 left in regulation.

Alston returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Blessed Trinity 15-yard line, but the Titan defense stopped Alston for no gain on first down and gave up two short completions to freshman Josiah Abdullah on second and third down. Then on fourth down Davis and a host of Titan tacklers pulled down Alston one-yard short of the line to gain for a first down after he caught a screen pass from Woods, ending the War Eagles’ comeback attempt with just 3:51 remaining in regulation.

Blessed Trinity will now move into the quarterfinals and will face another region champion, Villa Rica (9-2). The Wildcats won a region title for the first time since 1998.