By Ryan Rohde
Who knew that a 5-7, 113-lb. sophomore would be the hero of this thrilling semifinal contest?
Cocoa kicker Cody Bell nailed a 52-yard field goal as time expired to send the Tigers to the championship game. Fueled by key defensive stands in the red zone, including an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Winfred Strickland, the Tigers defense held a potent Spartan passing attack to just 45 yards.
The game winning drive began at the Tigers’ own eight yard line with 7 minutes and 34 seconds left on the clock. Cocoa controlled the ball and the clock with key first downs and eventually set up Bell’s game-winner.
The following week, Bell gave his Tigers the state title over Godby when he booted the extra point in overtime to give Cocoa a 7-6 victory.
Heading into this most anticipated contest, South Panola was riding an 89-game winning streak, the third-longest winning streak in high school history, but the Tigers failed to capture No. 90.
Meridian ended South Panola’s bid for a sixth straight state title thanks to its thrilling 26-20 overtime victory. Led by “Mr. Football 2008”, quarterback Tyler Russell, Meridian was in position to break a 20-20 tie with 14 seconds left to play. However, the team’s 29-yard field goal sailed wide and sent the game into overtime.
Next, the Wildcats scored on their first possession but failed on the extra point, leaving them with just a six-point lead. After an incomplete pass and a short run, the Tigers were then faced with a 3rd and 8. On the ensuing play, QB David Renfroe was sacked by Jacoby Eason, which left South Panola with a 4th and 20 and its season and streak on the line. Once again, Eason made his way into the backfield, tripping up Renfroe for his second straight sack and enabling his team to capture the state title and bring South Panola’s feat to an end.
South Panola’s last loss came in the ‘02 state championship against Wayne County.
In this sensational semifinal matchup, St. Xavier and Trinity continued to prove why they share one of the greatest rivalries in the nation.
After a tough defeat to St. Xavier on Oct. 3, Trinity avenged its only regular season loss by beating St. Xavier, 28-21, in the state semifinals.
Trinity opened a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half, but St. X closed the gap to 21-7 with 1:09 left in the second quarter. That’s when Shamrocks RB Tim Phillips (182 yards and 3 touchdowns overall) took it to another level. On the ensuing possession after the Tiger touchdown, Phillips took the first down handoff 79 yards to paydirt to stretch the lead to 28-7 going into the half.
But the Tigers clawed back and made the score 28-21 midway through the third. Trinity’s Ben Brislen then made an interception with 1:48 to go to seal the win for the Shamrocks.
Trinity would go on to win its fourth consecutive state title the following week over Simon Kenton, 48-0.
Two of the best defenses in the Peach State proved their worth in a classic overtime grudge match.
Both teams had their opportunity to win the game before Lions RB Ronnie Smith sprung Peachtree Ridge into its second state final in three years. The Lions had the chance to win in regulation by driving the ball down to the Grayson 28 yard line with 23 seconds left. But Grayson DB Ches Whitesides intercepted a first down pass that sent the game into overtime.
Again, the Lions failed to put points on the board in the first overtime by missing a field goal attempt on the first possession. Grayson looked poised to win the game until a bad snap on a field goal try forced double overtime. The Rams managed a successful field goal on the first possession in the second overtime, which gave them a 10-7 lead.
That’s where Smith stepped up his game. Smith took the ball down to the Grayson one-yard line on the opening play. He scored two plays later to send Peachtree Ridge to the title game thanks to the 13-10 victory.
Osbourn entered as a perennial Virginia power, and most recently captured the state title in ‘06, but this year was different. The Eagles were 6-4 and barely made the playoffs, but this is the game that started their improbable run to the state title game. Battlefield was 10-0 at the time and the top seed in the region.
To put it simply, and there was no way that Osbourn was supposed to win this game.
With 2 minutes left, Osbourn found themselves trailing 20-16 with the ball on the Battlefield 45. But 51 seconds later came the play of the game, and perhaps the entire playoffs.
The Eagles needed a 4th and 13 conversion to save their season and QB Thomas Keith came through. The signal-caller took the snap, looked down field and saw nothing, so he began to scramble. Keith eluded defenders for more than 20 seconds before throwing a pass that was tipped until RB Jerrell McFadden came down with the 17-yard completion on the Bobcats eight-yard line.
McFadden scored two plays later on a two-yard run with 20 seconds left, which eventually gave the Eagles a 22-20 win in dramatic fashion.
Osbourn went on to defeat three undefeated teams to reach the state finals before falling to Oscar Smith in the championship.
To contact correspondent Ryan Rohde, send an e-mail to email@example.com.