Cedar Grove 23, Oconee County 0

DECATUR – It was a fruitless drive when Cedar Grove ran 17 plays over the course of 7 minutes, 19 seconds to open its Class 3A semifinal game against Oconee County on Friday night at Godfrey Stadium. The drive stalled, and the Saints missed a field goal attempt that would have given them an early lead.

But it set an important tone for the game’s remaining three and a half quarters: The Saints were going to use their physicality between the tackles to drive their opponents into submission, and that’s just what they did.

Cedar Grove topped Oconee County 23-0, recording its second consecutive shutout in the state playoffs and extending its overall playoff point differential to 171-40. The win puts the Saints in the state championship game for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Each of the other four state title appearances have resulted in victories for Cedar Grove. The Saints are trying to win their second title in a row and fourth in the past five years.

“It’s always new,” coach John Adams said of the championship opportunity. “It’s a new group of seniors, a new ball club, so we’re just appreciating the whole ride this year and we need to finish it.”

On Friday, Cedar Grove (11-2) paired a combination of an aggressive running game and a suffocating defense to halt any hopes Oconee County had in the game before they got off the ground.

After failing to score on that 17-play opening drive that ate up more than half the clock in the first quarter, the Saints got on the board on the Warriors third play from scrimmage. Junior Kyle Mosley sacked Oconee County (9-5) quarterback Mac Ricks for an 8-yard loss that backed the Warriors up inside their own 15. The Saints defense got to Ricks again on the next play, forcing Ricks to throw the ball away from his own end zone. The play was ruled a safety, and Cedar Grove got the only 2 points it needed to win the game.

The Saints added touchdown runs of 3 yards (quarterback E.J. Colson), 1 yard (running back Jakarri Ponder), and 5 yards (running back Demarcus Smith) for good measure. All total, the Saints ran the ball on 44 of their 62 plays from scrimmage, gaining 198 on the ground.

“It’s the semifinals,” Adams said. “You’ve got two good teams going against each other. You don’t know how it’s going to go. you just have to be resilient and ride the wave and make some plays.

Defensively, Cedar Grove allowed just 125 total yards, all on the ground. Only three Oconee County players gained positive yardage in the game. Ricks finished with 23 carries for 83 yards, C.J. Jones 12 carries for 32, and Dylan Manders 1 carry for 10. The Warriors attempted 9 passes, completing one that went for no gain.

Now, Cedar Grove turns its attention to No. 3 Sandy Creek (12-2), a team it has already beaten once this season. The two Region 5-3A foes squared off on Oct. 21 of this year when their state rankings were reversed. The Saints notched a 49-34 victory in that game en route to a region title. The Patriots get their chance at revenge in the Class 3A state title game.

“We’re focusing on one day at a time, getting better each day,” Adams said. “That’s the mindset since day one, and I think these guys understand that.”

OC – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0

CG – 2 – 7 – 14 – 0 – 23

First Quarter

CG – Safety; 3:01

Second Quarter

CG – E.J. Colson 3 run (Amari Forte kick); 2:00

Third Quarter

CG – Jakarri Ponder 1 run (Forte kick); 8:33

CG – Demarcus Smith 5 run (Forte kick); 1:16