Hillgrove 32, Marietta 14

Hillgrove's Reggie Givhan (10) is tackled by Marietta's Milon Jones (3) after Givhan intercepted a pass in the second half of their game Friday, October 30, 2020. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Hillgrove's Reggie Givhan (10) is tackled by Marietta's Milon Jones (3) after Givhan intercepted a pass in the second half of their game Friday, October 30, 2020. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Hillgrove’s defense, led by two wide receivers forced into duty on the other side of the ball after injuries early in the game, created seven turnovers and held Marietta 19 points below its scoring average for a 32-14 victory in a Region 3-7A game Friday in Powder Springs.

Junior Reggie Givhan, playing defensively for the first time this season, intercepted three passes and forced a fumble, which he also recovered. Senior Jalen Royals, on defense for the first time in almost a month, had two interceptions, one of which he returned 42 yards for a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 87 yards, including a 72-yarder that set up the Hawks' first touchdown.

“We had both of our corners go down tonight, and our two starting wide receivers flipped over and played corner, and they play every special teams,” Hillgrove coach Byron Slack said. “I would imagine both of them had at minimum 80 snaps in the game, probably more. And yet [Givhan] gets over there and gets three interceptions on a kid twice his size and four or five pass break-ups on him.”

The victory left Hillgrove (4-2, 1-1) in a four-way tie with Marietta, Walton and Harrison for second place in the region behind North Cobb, which is the only remaining unbeaten team in 3-7A games and plays at Hillgrove next week. Marietta, the defending Class 7A champion, is 2-5 overall and 1-1 in the region.

Givhan’s biggest takeaways came on consecutive Marietta possessions after Hillgrove had taken a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 17-yard run by T.J. Thomas. Marietta had driven from its 20 to the Hillgrove 22, but Givhan turned the Blue Devils away with an interception on the 1-yard line.

After forcing a Hawks punt, Marietta moved back into Hillgrove territory and appeared to have converted on a fourth-and-2 play with a 6-yard pass from Tyler Hughes to Daniel Martin, but Givhan stripped Martin of the ball and recovered at the Hillgrove 33.

Royals intercepted passes on consecutive Marietta possessions in the fourth quarter after Hillgrove had taken a 20-7 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Nick Wolf with 9:10 remaining. Royals returned the second interception for a touchdown that gave the Hawks a 26-7 lead with 3:51 to play and put the game out of reach.

From the outset, it appeared this was going to be another offensive shootout for Marietta, which came in averaging 32.7 points per game and allowing 38.3. Both teams scored on their first drives, Marietta on a 2-yard run by Hughes with 10:12 to play in the quarter and Hillgrove on a 3-yard run by Thomas less than two minutes later.

Marietta’s touchdown was set up by a 52-yard return of the opening kickoff by Christian Mathis that set the Blue Devils up at the Hillgrove 37.

“They’re great at that return they do, and they got a big return on us, marched the ball and punched it in,” Slack said. “We got over there, the kids did not panic, and that’s what I was really proud of them about considering how things went last week [a 24-15 loss to Walton], considering we put an emphasis on starting fast and then that happens, but they didn’t flinch. We got out there and our offense got in a rhythm, our defense got in a rhythm, and we kept going.”

Marietta, however, would not score again until a 17-yard pass from Hughes to Martin with 2:20 to play in the game cut the lead to 26-14.

The Blue Devils didn’t struggle to move the ball - they finished with a 334-322 advantage in total offense - but couldn’t overcome the turnovers. Hughes was 15-of-38 passing for 228 yards and rushed for 29 yards but had five of the interceptions. Martin had 152 yards receiving on 11 catches.

Hillgrove ran for 203 yards, led by Thomas with 109 yards on 18 carries. Walter Bates ran for 88 yards on nine carries and scored on a 44-yard run with 2:04 to play. Rotating quarterbacks Theo Tatum (5-of-10 for 89 yards) and Chase McCravy (4-of-15 for 30 yards) combined for 119 passing yards.

Marietta - 7-0-0-7 - 14

Hillgrove - 7-7-3-15 - 32

First quarter

M - Tyler Hughes 2 run (Ben Parrot kick), 10:12

H - T.J. Thomas 3 run (Jonathan Grote kick), 8:36

Second quarter

H - Thomas 17 run (Grote kick), 9:10

Third quarter

H - Nick Wolf 23 field goal, 8:26

Fourth quarter

H - Wolf 22 field goal, 9:15

H - Jalen Royals 42 interception return (kick blocked), 3:51

M - Daniel Martin 17 pass from Hughes (Parrot kick), 2:20

H - Walter Bates 44 run (kick blocked), 2:04