ROSWELL, Ga. – When Blessed Trinity took the second-half kickoff and drove for a touchdown to cut Washington County’s lead to 19-17, the Titans had hopes of pulling off an upset against the unbeaten, state-ranked Golden Hawks.
The Titans battled to the end, but could not overcome the advantages in speed and athleticism on the part of Washington County, which pulled away for a 46-17 victory last Friday night, Nov. 29, in the quarterfinals of the state Class AAA playoffs.
Washington County will bring a 12-0 record into a semifinal meeting with Ringgold, while the Titans end the season 9-4 after making the deepest playoff run in school history.
“I have never coached a group of kids who played harder or overachieved more than this group,” Blessed Trinity coach Tim McFarlin said after the game.
McFarlin was head coach at Roswell for 10 years and led the Hornets to a share of the 2006 state championship. The Titans are 25-12 in three seasons under McFarlin, with four playoff victories.
“We played a good ball club,” the BT coach said of Washington County. “Other than up front, I can’t think of one place we weren’t out-athleted.”
Offensively, the Golden Hawks did most of their damage on the edges, but the threat of running back Melvin Hill to burst through the middle of the line, as well as beat the Titans to the corner, made it extremely difficult for the Titans to match up.
Hill finished with 234 yards on 23 carries, including touchdown runs of 26, 24, 22, 19 and 43 yards. He broke runs inside using his speed, agility and balance, and also was able to turn the corner before the Titans could get to him.
Quarterback A.J. Gray efficiently directed the Golden Hawks’ offense, completing 11 of 14 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 84 yards on 15 attempts and a TD. Josh Burden had nine of the catches for 74 yards, most on short passes to the outside, with D.J. Sanders adding two receptions for 59 yards, one of which went 38 yards for a score.
Sanders was a much greater factor on defense, intercepting four passes, all of them leading to Washington County touchdowns.
After the Titans hit a 33-yard pass from Conor Davis to Colin Bradley on their first play from scrimmage, Sanders set the tone for the game when he made a leaping, one-handed interception on the next play.
The Golden Hawks went 69 yards in three plays to take the lead, but BT answered with a 44-yard field goal by Marc Nolan, set up by Kyle Evans’ 38-yard kickoff return.
After forcing the Golden Hawks to punt for the only time in the game, the Titans drove 87 yards in 11 plays to take the lead. Milton Shelton carried seven times for 82 yards, including a 31-yarder to the Golden Hawks’ 26. On third-and-goal, Bradley went 13 yards on a reverse to put the Titans on top.
Washington County scored twice in the last six minutes of the second quarter to take a 19-10 halftime lead, with two plays denying the Titans chances to match the Golden Hawks’ TD.
A diving catch by Chris Siebert along the sideline in Washington County territory was ruled incomplete, and Shelton dropped a long pass from Davis that would have gotten the Titans close to the Hawks’ goal line.
Shelton had a terrific game running the ball, gaining 146 yards on 19 carries. But the Titans were unable to establish their aerial attack, with Davis completing just six of 23 passes for 70 yards with three interceptions. The Washington County defensive backs played tight man-to-man coverage on BT’s receivers, and the Hawks’ aggressive pass rush forced Davis to hurry many of his throws.
A 22-yard run by Shelton and two Davis completions to tight end Logan Craighead for 20 yards keyed the Titans’ scoring drive to start the second half. Carter McManes went the final yard for the touchdown.
But Gray answered with a 26-yard run to start a Washington County drive, and scored from the 10 after a deft fake to Hill on the zone read option.
The Washington County defense and Hill took over after that, with the Hawks scoring three touchdowns in less than six minutes to break the game open.
After graduating 17 starters among a large senior class from the playoff teams of 2011 and ‘12, McFarlin was uncertain what to expect from this senior class.
“That was a talented class, and this group was always stuck behind them. But once we took the lid off and they had a chance to shine, they did a beautiful job.
“This was a blue collar team,” he said. “They came to work every day.”
The Titans will return a strong nucleus for next year, led by sophomores Davis and Shelton on offense and standout Pat Jasinski on defense.
Among the key losses on offense are Bradley and tailback Chad Manthey, who rushed for over 1,000 yards filling in for Shelton. The Titans also lose two-way standouts Austin Werkheiser (OL/DL) and Zach Mitchler (OL/LB), defensive starters Evans, McManes and Ryan Mediate, and Nolan, the latest in a line of excellent BT kickers.