Walton 41, Camden County 25

Walton Raider head coach Daniel Brunner is seen with his players after beating Camden County 41-25 in a GHSA semifinal game Friday, December 1, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Walton Raider head coach Daniel Brunner is seen with his players after beating Camden County 41-25 in a GHSA semifinal game Friday, December 1, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Second-ranked Walton emerged as the favorite in Class 7A after an upset-filled quarterfinal round last week, and it played like the team to beat in Friday’s semifinal at Raider Valley in Marietta.

Jeremy Hecklinski was 16-of-23 passing for 317 yards and six touchdowns, three in each half, to lead the Raiders to a 41-25 victory over well-traveled Camden County that put Walton in the championship game for the first time since 2011.

“He’s a baller,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “He’s the best quarterback in the state. He doesn’t get all the recognition he probably deserves, but he balled out tonight like he always does. So I never worry when No. 12 is back there with the ball in his hands.”

Walton will face 10th-ranked Milton for the state title at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Milton, which won the championship in 2018, earned its spot in the final with a 45-35 victory over Grayson. Walton is seeking its first title.

The loss ended a somewhat unexpected playoff run for Camden County (10-4), which was making its first semifinal appearance since 2009. The Wildcats, seeded No. 3 from Region 1, had to travel from the southeast corner of the state to metro Atlanta four consecutive weeks for a total of more than 2,700 miles.

Camden had been effective in the first three rounds controlling the game with its Wing-T offense but was unable to keep the Raiders’ offense off the field, and it was Walton that was in control from the outset.

Walton drove 83 yards on six plays and scored on a 37-yard pass from Hecklinski to Wyatt Sonderman. Hecklinski had two more touchdown passes in the second quarter, including a 58-yarder to Hunter Teal with 1:03 remaining in the half that gave Walton a 21-0 lead.

“We didn’t play very well in the first half, and they did,” Camden County coach Jeff Herron said. “We knew that could happen, and it was our worst nightmare.”

Camden County made a game of it by outscoring the Raiders 17-0 in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, aided by two interceptions of Hecklinski.

Ja’Marley Riddle ran 60 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the quarter, and an interception by Mason Robinson on Walton’s next possession set up a 23-yard field goal by Gabe Caison that cut the lead to 21-10.

On Walton’s next offensive play, Riddle returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown to bring the Wildcats within 21-17.

Walton had the answer, with Hecklinski throwing touchdown passes on the Raiders’ next three possessions - 22 yards to Teal, 8 yards to Sonderman and 17 yards to Max McRaney - to put the game away.

“We’ve watched Camden on film, and all season long they have presented a problem in the middle of games,” Brunner said. “We weathered the storm the way we needed to, and our guys responded just like they have all season long. I wasn’t shocked a bit by our guys’ response in that situation.”

Teal had six catches for 163 yards. Sonderman had three catches for 57 yards, and Cameran Loyd had 76 yards on five catches.

Walton outgained the Wildcats 490-234 and finished with an advantage in time of possession of more than five minutes.

The Raiders also held Camden County to 207 yards rushing, about 30 yards below its average. That put the Wildcats in the position of needing to throw, and they completed just four of 13 attempts for 27 yards.

Riddle led the Wildcats with 85 yards rushing on five carries, and Jayden Dailey had 80 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown on 15 carries.

“Our defense played outstanding,” Brunner said. “I think our prep offensive team this week should be the player of the week. They did such a great job of giving us a look, and our defense was as prepared as they could have been.”

Camden County - 0-0-17-8 - 25

Walton - 7-14-7-13 - 41

First quarter

W - Wyatt Sonderman 37 pass from Jeremy Hecklinski (Sebastian Banai kick), 8:54

Second quarter

W - Jude Cascone 4 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 11:14

W - Hunter Teal 58 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 1:03

Third quarter

C - Ja’Marley Riddle 60 run (Gabe Caison kick), 10:49

C - Caison 23 field goal, 5:20

C - Riddle 44 interception return, 5:08

W - Teal 22 reception from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 1:33

Fourth quarter

W - Sonderman 8 pass from Hecklinski (kick failed), 9:53

W - Max McRaney 17 pass from Hecklinski (Banai kick), 4:14

C - Jayden Dailey 4 run (Dailey run), 1:17

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