The first four state championship football games in the Georgia High School Football Association were played Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The marathon day which ended with Lee County hoisting the Class 6A state championship trophy after midnight featured three games decided by seven points or less including an epic triple-overtime game between Bainbridge and Warner Robins.
That one was certainly well worth the 11-day wait between the semifinal games and the kickoff of the eight state finals which were postponed last weekend as the Atlanta United hosted and won the Major League Soccer finals on their home field at Mercedes-Benz this past Saturday night.
Below is a recap of the first four state championship games played on Tuesday.
Class A Public
Clinch County 27, Irwin County 20
Clinch County did it again.
The Panthers won another championship matchup with the Indians for the third time in four seasons as they also avenged a regular-season loss to their Region 2 rivals in the process.
Top-ranked Irwin (13-1) defeated second-ranked Clinch (13-1) by a 21-3 score when the teams played their region game back on Sept. 14.
But on Tuesday morning, Clinch claimed another state title by scoring the next 17 points of the game after Irwin scored a touchdown on its opening drive in the third quarter to take a 13-10 lead.
The title was the eighth for the Panthers who have only lost twice in the championship game in 10 appearances.
Clinch coach Jim Dickerson now has five state titles in 16 years as the head coach. He was one happy guy after the game.
“We will be getting the biggest, nicest ring we’ve ever gotten,” he said.
Irwin took a 13-10 lead when it drove 71 yards on its first series of the third period and scored on a 10-yard run by Jamal Paulk with just under five minutes left in the quarter. The extra-point kick failed.
The Indians converted a fourth-and-7 play to keep the drive alive before Paulk ran up the middle for the touchdown on the next snap.
Clinch answered with a 40-yard field goal by Zack Robbins to tie the score 13-13 moments into the fourth quarter.
Then, the Panthers would recover a squib kick at the Irwin 20 which took a funny bounce and kept Irwin from getting on the kick.
On the next play, Tyler Morehead threw a 20-yard pass to 6-foot-7 receiver Jeremiah Johnson for the go-ahead touchdown with 10:17 left in the game. The extra point was good and made the score 20-13.
The Panthers padded their cushion to 27-13 with 4:50 to play on a 59-yard pass from Morehead to Johnson on a third-and-22 play. Johnson, a four-star prospect as a junior, leaped above a defender to grab the jump ball and sprinted down the sideline for the touchdown.
Irwin did pull within the final margin on a 15-yard pass from Zach Smith to Javon Stanley with 1:36 left, but the Indians could not recover an onside kick and Clinch ran out the remaining time.
Morehead also ran 48 yards for a touchdown that gave Clinch a 10-7 lead at halftime.
He led the Panthers with 83 yards rushing while completing 4 of 6 passes for 121 yards and the two touchdowns.
DJ Lundy led Irwin with 127 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Smith threw for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. He also threw a 58-yard TD pass to Jamori Colson midway through the opening quarter for the first points of the game.
The Indians were seeking their first state championship since the 1975 season.
After the game, Irwin coach Buddy Nobles was critical of the officiating. He told reporters that Clinch got away with cut blocks that would have put them in long-yardage situations had they been penalized for the illegal blocks. He vowed to get that issue solved in the offseason.
For the record, Clinch was penalized nine times for 74 yards while Irwin was flagged three times for 35 yards.
Following the first touchdown catch by Johnson that tied the score at 13-all, Clinch was penalized for 32 yards and had to kick off from its own 7-yard line.
Irwin ended up turning over the ball on downs in Clinch territory.
Cedar Grove 14, Peach County 13
Down to perhaps its final play, Cedar Grove made it count for a state championship.
A 22-yard pass from senior quarterback Kendall Boney to senior star receiver Jadon Haselwood with just four seconds left went for a touchdown and won the state crown for the Saints.
Of course, the extra-point kick by Luis Dominguez actually was the deciding point on the scoreboard.
The comeback-win by the Saints (14-1) gave them their second state title in three years. They also won the 2016 championship.
For Peach (12-3), it was another heart-breaking finish. Last December, the Trojans fell in the state championship game to Calhoun as that game ended in controversy.
Cedar Grove’s final possession in this year’s title contest will go down as one of the best in DeKalb County football history.
Peach had just kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 13-7 with 3:48 to play.
Haselwood put the Saints in excellent position to score the touchdown it needed when he returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Peach 37-yard line.
Four plays later, Cedar Grove had to convert a fourth-and-1 play and Chavon Wright carried 2 yards to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
From the 26, Robert Jones rushed 19 yards to the Peach 7 and the Saints were first-and-goal with 1:30 left.
The Saints went backward, though. A false start backed them up 5 yards before an incomplete pass, a run for no gain and another false start left them facing third down from the 17.
Cedar Grove called a timeout, but again before their third-down play, the Saints committed another false start which backed them up to the 22.
With 10 seconds remaining, Boney took the snap for the Saints and fired a bullet to the goal line where Haselwood had inside leverage on his defender and snatched the ball out of the air for the game-winning score.
“(Peach County) had one safety in front of me, but I wasn’t worried about him because I would just run by him. I was worried about the second guy, but he came in too late and we ended up winning,” Haselwood said about the game-winning play.
It was just the second reception of the game for the nation’s top wide receiver and the state’s No. 1 recruit who decommitted from Georgia earlier this fall and has not announced which school he might sign with next week in the early signing period for college football.
Peach led 3-0 at halftime on a 48-yard field goal by Rene Galan.
Cedar Grove took its first lead with 6:39 to go in the third quarter on a 12-yard run by Boney who one play earlier threw a 41-yard pass to Monte Monfort to set up his own score.
The Trojans regained the lead in the closing seconds of the quarter on a 2-yard run by Noah Whittington that gave Peach a 10-7 advantage going into the final quarter.
Peach finished with 245 total yards to 191 by the Saints.
Jaydon Gibson was 12-of-20 passing for 130 yards for the Trojans.
Boney finished 6-of-10 for 101 yards for the Saints.
Bainbridge 47, Warner Robins 41 (3 OT)
In one of the best finals of all-time in the history of GHSA football, Bainbridge survived the classic battle against Warner Robins to claim its second state crown.
In the third overtime, the Bearcats scored on a 7-yard run by sophomore quarterback Quayde Hawksin to go up by the 47-41 final.
By rule, they had to go for two points in the third extra session, and their pass attempt failed.
Bainbridge then stopped Warner Robins and quarterback Dylan Fromm on its ensuing possession when Fromm’s fourth-down pass to Marcayll Jones fell incomplete in the left corner of the end zone to end the epic contest.
“The determination in these kids is unbelievable,” said Bainbridge coach Jeff Littleton. “What a game.”
Warner Robins defeated Bainbridge 38-0 in their Region 1 game on Oct. 19. That loss left the Bearcats with a 3-5 record. They started 2-0 but lost four straight games before winning a game and then falling big to the Demons.
That was the last loss, though, for the Bearcats who finished the season with seven straight wins including five in the postseason against teams ranked in the top 8 in the Class 5A state poll.
Bainbridge (10-5) is only the third team in state history to enter the playoffs with a .500 or worse record and claim a state title. The Bearcats’ only other state crown came back in 1982.
Warner Robins was going for its fifth state title and first since 2004. The Demons (12-3) lost to Rome in last year’s title game and ended Rome’s 40-game winning streak in this year’s semifinals to return to the state final.
The Bearcats led the Demons 35-7 early in the third quarter but saw Warner Robins come all the way back to the tie score at 35-35 and force overtime.
The Demons actually had a chance to win the game with a field goal on the final play of regulation but senior defensive lineman and Tennessee commit Roman Harrison leaped over the top of the line and blocked the attempt for the Bearcats to send the game into overtime.
Both teams kicked field goals in the first two overtimes.
In the second extra frame, Warner Robins took a 41-38 lead on a 20-yard field goal by Simariy Howard and declined a roughing the kicker penalty that would have given the Demons the ball first-and-goal just outside the 1-yard line.
On their ensuing possession, the Bearcats had what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass nullified due to an illegal formation. They ended up settling for a 34-yard field goal by Caleb Harris to tie the score at 41-all and send the game to the third overtime.
Overtime seemed improbable when the Bearcats took command of the game early with four touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 52 seconds to jump ahead 28-0 with 11:07 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bearcats scored on a 25-yard punt return by Anthony Brooks, a 32-yard interception return by Bryce Worthy, a 24-yard pass from Caleb McDowell to Aaron Spivie following a Fromm fumble, and a 9-yard run by McDowell following a long pass play to set up the score.
Warner Robins scored with 5:23 left in the first half on a 4-yard run by Jahlen Rutherford to make it 28-7 at intermission.
The Bainbridge lead grew to 35-7 early in the third period when Deyon Bouie intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
From there, Warner Robins mounted its comeback. The Demons scored twice before the end of the third quarter to get within 35-21 on a TD pass from Fromm to Jones and another short scoring run by Rutherford.
The Demons scored with 8:02 left in the fourth on a throwback pass from Tyler Fromm to Dylan Fromm for a 12-yard score that made it a 35-28 game and they drew even on a 3-yard pass from Dylan Fromm to Ty Carr with just 1:16 left in the game.
Warner Robins finished the game outgaining Bainbridge in total yardage, 367 to 183.
Dylan Fromm finished 27-of-52 passing for 267 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions which went for Bainbridge touchdowns.
Jones, who set a state single-season record for receiving yards, had 14 receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown for the Demons.
Rutherford was the Demons’ leading rusher with 22 carries for 69 yards and two scores.
For Bainbridge, Hawksin was 6-of-29 passing for 89 yards with two interceptions.
Spivie had three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
McDowell, also a sophomore, led the Bearcats with 54 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, a former Bainbridge player, was on the sidelines for the game.
Lee County 14, Northside (Warner Robins) 0
Lee County completed its first-ever perfect season with the shutout of Northside in the last of the four state championship games played on Tuesday.
The Trojans have now won back-to-back state championships while extending their winning streak to 21 games with their second victory over Region 1 rival Northside this season.
“Things are great in Lee County right now,” said Dean Fabrizio, head coach of the Trojans, as his team accepted the championship trophy after the game.
Lee defeated the Eagles 24-7 when the teams met in region play on Oct. 13 in Warner Robins. That 17-point final margin was the closest in any game for the Trojans going into the title game which they of course would win by three fewer points.
The powerful South Georgia region was guaranteed a third consecutive state crown no matter the outcome between the Trojans and Eagles. Valdosta, which is also a league member, claimed the state title in 2016.
This was the second straight year that two Region 1 teams met in the state final. Last year, Lee defeated region foe Coffee in overtime to claim its first state championship.
In Tuesday’s game, the cat-quick Lee defense stuffed the Eagles most of the night as it held Northside to just 164 total yards for the game including only 53 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
The Eagles crossed midfield only once in the game and started one other drive in Lee territory.
Northside threw a pass to the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal with three minutes left, but Lee defender Jammie Robinson tackled Eric Smith on the spot to preserve the shutout for the Trojans.
Jadin Daniels was 9-for-19 passing for 111 yards for Northside. He was sacked nine times on the night.
The Eagles held a Lee County offense that averaged 38 points a game well below its season scoring average.
The Trojans scored on a 4-yard run by Shaundarious Kimbrough late in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Lee wouldn’t score again until early in the fourth period when Kimbrough ran 2 yards for his second touchdown to give the Trojans the 14-0 cushion following the extra-point kick.
The Trojans finished with 203 total yards.
Kyle Toole was 6-of-14 passing for 128 yards with an interception.
Kimbrough led the Trojans with 56 yards rushing and the two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Coming Thursday: A recap of the four state finals played on Wednesday including Class A Private, Class 2A, Class 4A and Class 7A.