ATLANTA — Blessed Trinity capped off its incredible playoff run with the ultimate reward Friday night at Marist — a state championship trophy.
The Titans downed their region rivals 16-7 for the 4A state title in another dramatic game in the series between the programs.
BT’s win was its first football state championship for the 16-year old program in their second appearance. And for BT head coach Tim McFarlin, who won a state title with Roswell in 2006, it was a win he will forever savor.
“I saw our kids compete as hard as I’ve seen them compete,” McFarlin said. “This was one of those games where we could not take a break, and for the guys to leave it all out there was so special.”
It was also exceptional to beat Marist, who downed BT in the final minute of their regular season matchup on Oct. 20, McFarlin said.
“To lose one early and then come and win it all on their field makes it a bit sweeter,” he said.
For BT’s upperclassmen, Friday’s game was the culmination of a two-year battle to have another shot at a state title.
BT’s only prior state championship appearance came in 2015 when the Titans fell to Westminster in overtime.
“It was just heartbreaking to lose that 2015 game after all the effort and hard work we had put in,” said senior linebacker Jake Rudolph. “I look around and I see a lot of the guys who were on that team. This win means a lot to everybody, but especially those guys.”
Junior running back Steele Chambers shares that sentiment.
“We finally redeemed the loss from two years back,” Chambers said. “It feels amazing.”
Friday night also marked BT’s improbably playoff run of beating four teams ranked in top-five, including two-time defending state champions Cartersville, 2016 state runner up Thomson, Region 2-AAAA champions Mary Persons and previously undefeated Marist. Those four wins all came with BT on the road.
As it has throughout the playoffs, BT’s defense was crucial in the state title game. Marist was held to under 200 total yards in the game. They averaged nearly 230 rushing entering Friday night.
“We have the best defensive coordinator (John Thompson) and the best defensive staff in the state,” McFarlin said. “They have led us through the playoffs and have allowed our offense to make some mistakes. The effort they put on that field [Friday] was just phenomenal.”
Marist was held to a single touchdown, scored with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That score put the War Eagles within striking distance, with BT leading 14-7.
But a huge stop by BT’s defense would, as the adage goes, win a championship.
A punt from Ryan Davis pinned Marist at their own 7-yard line with 1:33 left. BT’s JR Bivens recorded a sack on the first play of the drive, moving the ball back to the 4-yard line.
Smelling blood, BT’s defense swarmed Marist quarterback Chase Abshier as he dropped in the pocket. Three BT defenders brought him down in the end zone for a safety, icing the game with a minute remaining.
Prior to Marist’s only score, BT built a 14-0 lead with touchdowns from Ryan Davis and Steele Chambers. Quarterback Jake Smith found Davis for a nine-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter and Chambers extended the lead with a three-yard rushing score with nine minutes left in the fourth.
“I’m very proud of how the kids handled the pressure, behaved themselves and just played football,” McFarlin said. “For a game that was so emotional I though both teams handled that very well.”
Friday’s game also had the added pressure of being played outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Originally scheduled for Dec. 9, it was postponed due to icy road conditions. That meant BT had to play away from home in a hostile environment for a fourth straight week.
But missing out on the ceremony of playing in an NFL stadium wasn’t on the minds of the Titans.
“We could have played in the parking lot and I wouldn’t have cared,” Rudolph said. “I think the atmosphere here was better than it would have been [at Mercedes-Benz].”
And no matter the site, it was a still a night BT’s players will never forget, summed up Chambers.
“This was an amazing game and a perfect game to end on.”