ROSWELL, Ga. — Roswell trailed Mill Creek 20-7 at halftime, and after giving up a touchdown to the Hawks on the first drive of the third quarter, the Hornets’ chances at victory looked slim. Down 27-7 with just over 20 minutes of game time remaining, Roswell would have to reverse their fortunes for any chance at advancing to the second round of the 7A state playoffs, and they needed to do so quickly.
With their season on the line, the Hornets answered the rallying cry from the home crowd at Ray Manus Stadium and reeled off three unanswered touchdowns to come from behind and defeat Mill Creek, 28-27.
FinalRoswell 28Mill Creek 27Roswell holds on for the win after Mill Creek misses a 46-yard field goal as time expires. Pandemonium. pic.twitter.com/tI0adJfP4z— Zach Shugan (@ZachShugan) November 28, 2020
“There’s not many words you can say,” Roswell head coach Chris Prewett said. “[The players] fought. We told them ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard, stick together and keep playing and good things are going to happen.’ Luckily they believed in what we said and went out and executed.”
Mill Creek led 20-7 at halftime after Roswell “got mauled” in the opening 24 minutes, according to Prewett, giving up two touchdowns and two field goals. Meanwhile, Roswell scored once in the half and mustered 105 yards on offense, 80 of which came on one drive late in the half.
“I thought we had a bunch of chances in the first half,” Prewett said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Mill Creek scored again on the opening drive of the second half, driving 70 yards for a touchdown to extend its lead to 27-7. Those were the last points the Hawks scored in their season as Roswell started its comeback bid on the next drive.
The Hornets put together a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped off with a 3-yard touchdown from Robbie Roper to Marquis Willis, the first of three unanswered Roswell scores.
On the ensuing drive, Roswell’s defense forced its third turnover of the game with Evan Plunkett stripping the ball and returning it near midfield. The Hornets took over on offense, and on the first play of the drive, junior running back Ryan Hill took a handoff 49 yards down to Mill Creek’s 4-yard line. Two plays later, the do-it-all senior Willis finished the drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown.
In the span of two minutes of game time, Mill Creek’s lead shrunk from 20 points to a touchdown, and the momentum swung entirely in Roswell’s favor.
Roswell’s defense forced another stop on the next drive, giving the offense a chance to put the Hornets on top for the first time in the game.
The offense took advantage.
Junior running back Ryan Stephens finished a 68-yard drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown, and Roswell took the lead, 28-27, with 8:33 remaining in the game.
The drama didn’t end there, however, as Mill Creek had plenty of time to come back and score.
The Hawks made it to the Hornets’ 32-yard line on their next drive and were faced with a fourth-and-5. Instead of going for the first down, the Hawks kicked a 50-yard field goal, which came up short.
Roswell held on to its 1-point lead, but there was still 2:30 remaining on the clock. The Hornets took over on offense and were unable to pick up a first down, giving the Hawks had one more shot at the win.
Just as they did for most of the second half, the Hornets’ defense stood tall. Mill Creek couldn’t find the end zone, and with no timeouts was forced to attempt a 46-yard field goal as time expired. The kick had enough distance this time, but it sailed to the right and missed.
The missed kick gave Roswell a berth in the second round of the playoffs and avenged the Hornets’ loss to Mill Creek in last year’s playoffs.
“It was an unbelievable finish,” Prewett said. “I’m so happy for our kids, the community and everybody that was able to be here. I’m going to enjoy this one tonight. It was a special one.”
Roswell received the ball to start the game, but Mill Creek struck first. The Hawks scored on their second drive with just one play, a 41-yard rushing touchdown, and took a 7-0 lead.
Roswell struggled to move the chains on offense in the first half. The Hornets went three-and-out on their first drives, with little success advancing the ball.
On their seventh drive, they broke through. The Hornets moved 80 yards down the field and capped the drive off with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Roper to Michael Fitzgerald.
Mill Creek snuck in one more score before halftime, hitting a 49-yard field goal to take a 20-7 lead.
Roswell finished with 285 yards total on offense following a slow start to the game. Roper threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns and ran three times for 29 yards. Hill led the Hornets in rushing, carrying the ball 15 times for 83 yards.
On defense, the Hornets forced three turnovers on the night. Plunkett intercepted a pass and stripped and recovered a fumble, and fellow senior Harrison Duncan had an interception.
Roswell (8-2, 3-2) plays on the road next week against Norcross (11-0, 6-0) in the second round of the 7A state playoffs. The Blue Devils entered the playoffs ranked No. 3 in Class 7A and defeated South Forsyth, 47-20, in the first round.