Atlanta--Battered and bruised before the game began, the gritty Augusta Prep Cavaliers refused to lose Saturday afternoon.
Facing a tough Johnson Ferry Christian Academy Saints squad, the Cavaliers made big plays at every turn and walked away with the Glory For Christ League state championship, using two overtimes to win 28-21.
The Cavaliers, in their third year as a varsity program, finished at 11-1, winning their final seven contests.
The Cavaliers controlled the clock in the fourth quarter and forced four turnovers, including one apiece in each overtime - and did it with key players on the sidelines or at less than 100 percent.
Those missing for the Cavaliers included Joseph Shaver, who was lost for the season earlier in the year, Patrick Reynolds, who broke his fibula in the semifinal game and senior quarterback Nate Pylant who dislocated his elbow on Thursday. Running back Kevin Huggins was hobbled by a bad ankle, but was able to gut it out. Huggins' backup, David Bramble, had to be carted off the field after injuring his ankle midway through the second quarter after a kickoff return and did not return.
Stepping in for Pylant was sophomore Jimmy St. Louis, who completed 3-of-5 passes for 41 yards. In the second overtime period with the ball first, St. Louis made the throw of the year when he connected with fellow sophomore Josh Rosenblum on third-and-9 for a 14-yard touchdown and a 28-21 lead. On the ensuing play, Rosenblum picked off the Saints' Mason Meadows, ending the game and sending the team and fans into a state of unbridled joy.
"Everybody thought we were going to hit Michael (Downing), coach (Bacheller) called a great play and Josh was wide open," St. Louis said.
Rosenblum had little time to enjoy his touchdown before his game-ending interception.
"I saw my man go out and I knew I had to make a play on that one," said Rosenblum of his interception. "I'm on cloud nine, this is ridiculous. I read my key, did what I was supposed to do. That's all I did."
With celebrations going on around him, an emotional head coach Harry Bacheller talked passionately about his squad.
"In my 31 years of coaching, I can't think of a better group, I'm so proud of them," Bacheller said..."We've had a lot to overcome the last two weeks."
Before the game, Bacheller said they were going to run Brandon 40 times and he was close as his senior fullback toted the ball 42 times for 248 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown and a one-yarder that tied the score with 7:02 left in the game. Huggins made some key runs in the second half and finished with 60 yards on 16 carries. The Cavaliers finished with 348 rushing yards for the game.
After the game, Brandon called it the best game he had ever played in a dream come true.
"It was a tough game, " said Brandon. "I was tired but it's my last game as a senior and I had to go. I thank my line. Without them I can't do anything."
The Saints (8-4), a first-year program, were the mirror opposite of the Cavaliers, throwing the ball at every turn, and each team's style swung the momentum their way during the game.
After stopping the Saints on their first drive of the game, the Cavaliers used a signature drive, going 78 yards in 16 plays, taking nine minutes off the clock. St. Louis snuck it in from the 1 for the 7-0 lead after Huggins' extra point.
The Saints tied it with 6:43 to go in the half when Meadows connected with Luke Chauncey for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Meadows was 13-for-28 for 194 yards and three interceptions. Chauncey caught six balls for 80 yards and two scores while Thomas Gilbert caught six passes for 101 yards.
Steven Vinson set up the Cavaliers' second score when he intercepted Meadows at the Cavaliers' 14. On the ensuing play, Brandon bulled his way through the line, and shrugged off would-be tacklers, rumbling 86 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown with 1:16 left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Cavaliers were stopped on fourth down twice on their side of the field. The Saints turned them into a 27-yard hookup between Meadows and Chauncey and a 13-yard touchdown run by Peter Elder which gave them a 21-14 lead with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
"My quarterback was clickng right there and we're a throwing offense," said Saints' head coach Jeff Paulk. "We knew exactly where we we needed to go, it's just that we came up one short. That's all there really is to it."
The Cavaliers responded with a 64-yard drive that took 7:37 of the clock with Brandon pounding the ball in from one-yard out with 7:02 left in the game.
The Cavaliers forced the Saints to punt, then they ran out the final 5:22 of the clock and the teams headed to the first overtime.
Meadows connected with Gilbert, but he was hit and fumbled with the Cavaliers' Jordan Smalley recovering.
Kevin Huggins' 30-yard field goal attempt was just wide and the teams went into the second overtime.
While proud of his team, Saints head coach Jeff Paulk knew the Cavaliers were something special.
"They're the best coached bunch of young men I've seen," said Paulk. "They play hard, not dirty. They kept coming at us every play and that long drive in the fourth quarter broke our back."