Hughes 35, Gainesville 28
Recap: Hughes scored two quick-strike touchdowns in the final minute of the first half to take a 23-6 lead, weathered Gainesville’s three second-half touchdowns and sealed the victory by running off he final 3 minutes, 59 seconds on the clock. Leading 9-6 with 54 seconds left before intermission, Hughes went 79 yards on three pass plays, scoring on Prentiss “Air” Noland’s 15-yard throw to Jekail Middlebrook. On the kickoff, Hughes’ Terrance Brown forced a fumble that Hughes recovered, and Noland threw an 18-yard TD pass to Jaden Barnes on the next play. Gainesville scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half, but Hughes answered both, one on Middlebrook’s 77-yard kickoff return. When Gainesville got within 35-28, Hughes ran out the clock with an eight-play drive to the Gainesville 9. Barnes finished with 150 yards receiving, giving him 1,179 on the season and 642 in the playoffs. Gainesville’s Jeremiah Telander, who is committed to Tennessee, had a state finals-best four tackles for losses totaling minus-31 yards.
History: Hughes, playing its 14th varsity season, won its first state title and finished 15-0 after finishing as runner-up to Buford in 2021. Hughes set the state record for points in a season with 792 and became the first team in history to score 35 points or more in every game. (Trinity Christian had scored 34 or more in every 2021 game.) Gainesville, following a 5-5 season in Class 7A, finished 14-1 in the first season under coach Josh Niblett. The Red Elephants fell short of their first state title since 2012.
Ware County 38, Warner Robins 13
Recap: Ware County scored on four of its first five possessions, built a 24-6 halftime lead and won its first state title in its 65th season. R.J. Boyd rushed for 132 yards, Niko Smith passed for 256 and three touchdowns, and Jarvis Hayes had a career-high 171 yards receiving. Trey Hargrove had a team-leading seven solo tackles, three tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. K.J. Baker and Dewayne Birden intercepted passes. Ware County forced two Warner Robins three-and-outs to start the game and scored after each for a 14-0 lead. Warner Robins scored on a one-play drive after an interception to start the second half, but Smith’s two TD passes in the third quarter put the game away, one on a 99-yard drive.
History: Ware County completed its first undefeated season (14-0) and claimed its first title after making the playoffs each of the past 21 seasons and reaching three previous finals since the south Georgia school opened in 1958. Hayes finished the season with 1,134 yards receiving. Warner Robins finished 10-5 after a 1-4 start. Its 14-game winning streak in playoff games and bid for a third straight title were ended.
Benedictine 14, Cedartown 13
Recap: Benedictine kept Cedartown out of the end zone four times inside the 2-yard line in the final seconds of a rainy, eventful fourth quarter. With 7:42 left, Cedartown was barely hanging on, trailing 14-7 with Benedictine on its 37-yard line, but Carlos Jones forced a fumble on a sack, and Mikey Esquivel recovered. Cedartown drove 57 yards on seven plays and scored on QB Reece Tanner’s 1-yard run with 4:53 left. But Cedartown missed the extra point, leaving Benedictine ahead 14-13. Benedictine then faced a fourth-and-1 at its 24 and gambled with a fake punt, but the up man dropped the snap, and Cedartown’s Maleek Frederick tackled him for no gain. Cedartown used six running plays to earn a first-and-goal at the 1. Having missed an extra point and rain pouring, Cedartown tried four times to run it in with Reece and 230-pound Patrick Garner. On fourth down with three seconds left, Cedartown called time out, then ran Garner into the teeth of Benedictine’s defense again, but for no gain. Credited with the goal-line tackles were Cole Semien, Keiran Glover, Alijah Alexander and Jeremiah Thomas.
History: Benedictine, the defending champion, won its fourth state title in nine seasons. Cedartown finished 14-1 and short of its first state title since 1963. Benedictine’s defensive stop was the second game-saving goal-line stand in the final minutes of a championship game, the first since Thomas County Central beat Thomasville 14-12 in 1993. Had Cedartown scored on the last attempt, it would’ve been the first final-play winning touchdown in finals history. (North Gwinnett won on a final-play field goal in 2017.) Cedartown also would’ve become only the fourth team to win after trailing by 14 points or more in the second half behind 2015 Westminster, 1996 Washington County and 1952 Calhoun.
Sandy Creek 21, Cedar Grove 17
Recap: Travis Franklin scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 50 seconds left, and Kaleb Cost intercepted a long pass at the Sandy Creek 31 to clinch the victory. Video indicated that Franklin’s run came up short of the goal line. The play took place on third down, so Sandy Creek would’ve had another shot at the touchdown or a tying field goal, but video of the play and criticism of the call went viral after the game. The winning drive, which covered 70 yards in 12 plays, came after Cedar Grove took a 17-14 lead. The key play was quarterback Geimere Latimer’s riveting 23-yard run on a fourth-and-22 that moved the ball to the Cedar Grove 21. Cedar Grove ran a controversial play of its own at the goal line. Elliott Colson was ruled short of the end zone on a third-down run from the 2, although replays appeared to show the ball crossing the line. Sandy Creek’s Cameron Watts then blocked a 27-yard field goal attempt to preserve Sandy Creek’s 14-10 lead with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter. Sandy Creek also had a third-and-goal at the 1 in the third quarter but turned the ball over on downs.
History: Sandy Creek, avenging a regular-season defeat, dethroned the No. 1 team and defending Class 3A champion. It was the Fayette County school’s first championship since 2012. Latimer, a two-year starter and all-state performer, finished his career with 5,713 yards passing and 67 touchdowns and 1,088 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. Cedar Grove failed in its bid for a fifth Class 3A title in seven seasons. It was Cedar Grove’s fifth loss to a 3A opponent in that span, second to Sandy Creek, which beat Cedar Grove in the 2021 regular season.
Thomson 32, Fitzgerald 27
Recap: Jontavis Curry rushed for 243 yards and scored four touchdowns, three on runs of more than 50 years. His 61-yarder gave Thomson the lead for good, 26-21, with 8:21 left, and his 86-yarder put the game away with a minute left. Fitzgerald scored on the final play of the game to get within five points. Thomson survived two lost fumbles in the second half and made two big stops in its territory in the fourth quarter. With 8:43 left, Fitzgerald had a fourth-and-3 at the Thomson 43 when Marcellus Brigham made a stop behind the line. With 4:28 left, Fitzgerald had a first down at the Thomson 35, but Quinterrion Hunt’s 5-yard tackle for loss and Cervuntes Felts’ 10-yard sack ruined the bid.
History: Thomson, unranked in preseason, finished 14-1 and won its first state title since 2002 while ending Fitzgerald’s 20-game winning streak. Curry became the second player in state finals history to score on three runs of longer than 50 yards. (Brooks County’s Omari Arnold was the first in 2021.) Curry scored 16 of his 29 touchdowns this season in the playoffs. Fitzgerald, ranked No. 1, finished 14-1 and fell a game short of a successful defense of its 2021 title.
Class A Division I
Prince Avenue Christian 52, Swainsboro 34
Recap: Prince Avenue Christian trailed 20-7 in the first half and 27-17 midway in the third quarter but scored touchdowns on five straight second-half drives that totaled 356 yards on 20 plays, and Swainsboro couldn’t keep pace. Aaron Philo set state-finals records with 477 yards passing and six touchdowns, and Josh Britt had six receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns, a team-leading seven solo tackles, one forced fumble and an interception. With his team down 27-17 with 6:50 left in the third, Britt forced a fumble that teammate Riley Cartey recovered, then scored on a 51-yard pass two plays later. With Prince Avenue down 27-24, Jackson Zittrouer and Christian Garrett stopped Swainsboro’s Qin Brown less than a yard short at the Prince 20 on a fourth-and-4. Prince Avenue cashed that in four plays later with a 65-yard pass to Ethan Christian. With Prince Avenue ahead 38-34 and Swainsboro threatening, Britt intercepted a pass at the Prince Avenue 10. Britt scored seven plays later on a 58-yard pass and a 45-34 lead. Swainsboro’s Ty Adams, who is committed to North Carolina, rushed for 259 yards.
History: Prince Avenue Christian won its second state title, first since 2020, and finished undefeated for the first time at 14-0. The Wolverines went No. 1 in GHSF Daily’s rankings from wire to wire. Swainsboro finished 13-1 and failed in its bid for its first state title since 2000.
Class A Division II
Bowdon 39, Schley County 31
Recap: Bowdon scored touchdowns on its first six full possessions and used the seventh to ice the game with a 4-minute, 9-second drive to the Schley County 17 with 13 seconds left. Schley’s last chance never got past midfield. Schley had pulled within 39-31 on Jalewis Solomon’s 77-yard kickoff return with 4:22 left. Neither team punted. On the game’s first drive, Bowdon’s JaMichael Jones intercepted a pass that proved to be a pivotal and rare stop for either team and, with his 18-yard return, set up a 44-yard TD drive. T.J. Harvison rushed for 212 yards and had four solo tackles in the secondary. Bowdon QB/DB Robert McNeal, another two-way player and a four-year starter, had two touchdowns rushing and two passing, made three solo tackles and returned a kickoff 30 yards. His 28-yard TD run for a 32-21 lead late in the third quarter came on a third-and-9. That was Bowdon’s only third down of longer than four yards until 1:07 left from the Schley 18.
History: Bowdon, the No. 1-ranked team, won its final 13 games to finish 14-1 and won its third state title, first since 1992. T.J. Harvison finished with 2,026 rushing yards, including 931 in five playoff games. Fifth-ranked Schley County’s 11-game winning streak ended. The Wildcats finished 12-3 with their first state finals appearance. The game marked the eighth time in finals history that both teams scored more than 30 points, the first time in Class A.
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