Pierce County, Rockmart advance by double-digits

No. 6 Yellow Jackets, No. 3 Bears to play Dec. 12 at The Benz

The championship game is more than a week away, and that will be previewed at length leading up to 1 p.m. Dec. 12, when the No. 6 Rockmart Yellow Jackets (12-2) play the No. 3 Pierce County Bears (13-1) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. For now, it’s worth pause to reflect on the accomplishment of winning the semifinal round and advancing to the season’s ultimate game.

The Bears hosted and beat Fitzgerald 35-7, their fourth lopsided tournament win in as many games. The closest any team got to them in the playoffs is 21 points, and that was Laney in Round 2. In the process, they ended the Purple Hurricane’s remarkable run of consecutive title game appearances at three.

Bears junior quarterback Caden McGatha rushed 38 times for 332 yards and five touchdowns, while the Bears defense limited Fitzgerald’s usually effective and always run-heavy offense to just 54 rushing yards.

With Rockmart, all of its playoff wins have been by double-digits, though Cook made it close on Friday, with the Jackets winning 34-24 in Rockmart.

The Jackets got a huge game from junior Tristan Anderson, who pulled in two interceptions on defense and a touchdown with 54 yards at receiver. Senior JD Davis led the offense with 110 yards on 12 carries with three touchdowns, adding eight tackles on defense, and senior quarterback Calliyon Thompson was 14 of 21 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown.

Here’s what each coach said about their teams semifinals wins.

Biff Parson, Rockmart

On Cook: “Congratulations to Cook on their season. They’re a well-coached team with an awesome fan base. They have a lot of class, and coach Byron Slack does it the right way. I have nothing but respect for their players and staff.”

On how the game unfolded: “We took the first drive and got it inside the 15 and threw an interception in the end zone. Cook did a good job of taking the ball down the field and getting 3. We responded with a touchdown on our next possession. Later, it was 14-3, and Cook blocked a punt and recovered it on our 35. The defense held, and they didn’t get any points. Tristan Anderson intercepted it near the end zone, and we took a knee to get it to halftime. that was a key moment for momentum, for these kids to go into the locker room up 14-3 at the half, because of that stop.

“Then, Cook came out in the second half and returned the opening kickoff all the way back. That was a back-breaker, and it stole all the momentum we had. That was key moment, because we could go one of two ways. Are we going to fight and battle through adversity? Or, are we going to start having doubts and giving up? That kind of defines who we are, and it did that day. We scored two unanswered touchdowns to get ahead of the clock, and from there we held the ball. Cook scored two more times as well, but I’m just proud of our kids and how they fought through adversity.

On fighting adversity: “Football is a game of momentum, and when that momentum is against you, it’s easy to point fingers and have self doubt. This bunch has changed in a good way throughout the year, in terms of dealing with adversity. The first part of the year was spent just teaching them how to do it. Over the course of the year, we’ve dealt with — sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way — and there’s been growth. They believe in each other, and they answer the bell and put points on the board. The offense and defense help each other out. As a coach, you look back and you’re proud of your kids in these moments.”

On having all double-digit playoff wins: “From the outside, the scoreboard makes it look a certain way, but I promise you, every day at Rockmart, there’s a challenge, good or bad. Keeping kids humble, keeping them hungry despite the score, there’s always battles in games. Mind battles, teaching them how to be unselfish and play for one another. It’s not about whose getting the touchdowns, or the tackles, or the glory. It’s about playing for each other.”

Ryan Herring, Pierce County

On Fitzgerald: “On Those guys have played in a lot of playoff games over the years. This was their fourth semifinals in a row. We got them here at home, and a lot of things went our way.”

On the lopsided score: “There was nothing comfortable about it, don’t misunderstand. It was 14-0 in the third quarter, so it was a tight game until the fourth quarter. It was a great win for our kids, and they executed very, very well. It’s hard to be more proud than I am of that group.”

Moment in game when things clicked: “We just kept getting stops on D and being efficient on offense. Every week, we work on trying to get first downs, and being efficient. Our kids have done that, and the’ve done great all year. There are a lot of games where we don’t punt. We didn’t punt Friday (the Bears were 1-for-2 on fourth down conversions), and McGatha, behind some great blocking, had a huge game.”

On the Bears defensive plan: It was a very mentally and physically taxing week preparing for Fitzgerald, because of the type of stuff they do. Our kids did a great job. For them to hold Fitzgerald to 54 yards rushing, that’s something.”

On home crowd: You have to be at our games to see it, but the place is 100-percent packed. It’s not a good crowd, it’s not a great crowd. There’s nowhere to sit in the stands. The fans are loud and they do a great job of getting behind our players. It’s been a memorable time, and it’s something you always wish for and want.”

On lack of close playoff games: “I’m never going to complain about a good margin of victory, ever. Some of these games may not be tough for four quarters, but I have no shadow of a doubt the next game will be.”

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