Cedar Grove head coach John Adams had some ominous words for future opponents of the Saints.
“Just imagine how good we can be when we finally play four quarters of football.”
For the second time in as many games, Cedar Grove (2-0), the top team in Class 3A, put up 30 points on a larger school. This time the victim was Westlake (1-2), No. 9 in the state’s largest classification (7A). The Saints scored 16 unanswered points in the first three minutes of the second half, nine in the first 25 seconds, en route to a 30-20 win, Friday night at the Lions Den in South Fulton.
The pivotal point in the game came before a minute had elapsed in the third quarter. Cedar Grove freshman LB Charles Harris stripped Westlake returner Avion Terrell inside the Lions’ 10-yard line. The Lions recovered the ball in the endzone to prevent a touchdown, but the safety pushed the Saints’ lead to 16-7.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, senior ATH Barry Jackson broke containment on the right side of Westlake’s kickoff team and raced 60 yards down the far sideline for a touchdown to make it 23-7 after senior K Amari Forte’s successful point-after kick with 11:35 left in the quarter.
Westlake, playing without senior QB R.J. Johnson, took over deep in its own territory. The Lions picked up a first down but punted the ball back to Cedar Grove and the Saints took over at the Westlake 45-yard line.
A false start penalty pushed the Saints back to midfield. After a dropped pass, sophomore QB Elliott Colson (who also had two touchdown runs) hit Jackson on a slant, and Jackson did the rest, breaking a tackle and then outrunning the Westlake secondary for a 50-yard touchdown and a 30-7 lead.
But Westlake wouldn’t go away and provided a look into the future as sophomore QB Jabari Jones led the Lions on back-to-back scoring drives of 10-plus plays. The first came as an answer to Jackson’s touchdown reception, as Jones piloted a 14-play, 68-yard march, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by junior ATH Christian Patterson to cut the lead to 30-14.
After the Lion defense forced a three-and-out, Jones, who earlier in the game had a 14-yard touchdown pass to Terrell, led a 12-play, 81-yard drive. Senior RB Jai’den Thomas darted 21-yards up the middle, breaking tackles and making people miss, before diving into the end zone to narrow the gap to 30-20 with a little over 10 minutes left in regulation.
The Lions defense turned Cedar Grove away on the Saints’ next possession, holding strong on four plays inside the Westlake 5-yard line. But junior DB Jakyre Horton essentially ended the game as came off his man to grab an overthrown ball by Jones down the near sideline for his third interception of the season.
“We came out being explosive, offense, defense and special teams,” Horton said. “We just have to learn how to keep our foot on the gas.”
Westlake head coach Rico Zachary said the first three minutes of the third quarter were indeed the difference in the game.
“We said special teams was going to be big in this game, and it was,” he said. “But playing games in this type of environment is good for us. We did some good things. We just have to keep playing.”
Adams said matchups like this provide a great stepping stone for his team as they go after their second consecutive state championship, their fourth in five seasons.
“Games like this made us go into our third string, which was huge for us,” he said. “We have to get into better shape, but that was huge for us to get those kids some quality reps because we’re going to need them.”
After knocking off Class 4A Bainbridge, ranked in the top 10, two weeks ago, the Saints’ game last week against Edison of Miami was cancelled. Friday’s game at Westlake was the first of four against ranked opponents in Class 7A. Collins Hill, Mill Creek and Colquitt County are next up.
Horton said he and his teammates will be ready.
“That’s what we look for, all those A’s after the school’s name,” he said. “We know people are going to take us lightly because we’re a 3A school, but to us it doesn’t matter. We going to come out and go at any team we play.”
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