ATLANTA — In just one play, sadness and sorrow turned into ecstasy and elation.
As the game clocks at the Georgia Dome ticked to all zeroes early Saturday evening, one final snap held the fate of Peach County’s dream season in its clutches.
Dreams and fantasy, meet reality.
Thanks to a timely, heady play by Trojans linebacker Luke Crowell, all of Peach County is waking today knowing that the type of history it has waited to see has been made.
Never miss a local story.
With Crowell’s clutch pass deflection on a last-second Gainesville two-point conversion attempt, the Trojans secured their third state championship since 2005, beating the Red Elephants 13-12 in the GHSA Class AAA title game.
The championship is also Peach County’s third in school history and concludes the Trojans’ (15-0) first undefeated season.
“It just feels like a dream right now,” Peach County quarterback Patrick Taylor said, inside one of the Dome’s tunnels. “Everybody was just walking around the locker room crying. I can’t do (that). It still doesn’t feel real.”
Coming on the heels of back-to-back victories in 2005 and 2006, the title is also the first during the head-coaching tenure of Chad Campbell. With the win, the former Peach County assistant now joins brother Lee, as the only siblings in the state to win state championships as head coaches.
Lee Campbell went undefeated and won Class A titles with Hawkinsville in 2003 and 2004.
“We love each other so much,” Chad Campbell said. “We just want the best for each other. He’d probably rather see me win one than him win one and vice-versa.
“First brothers — that’s something we can always talk about and share with our families.”
For the Trojans themselves, this game held plenty of moments they are sure to share with their own families for years to come.
What made Crowell’s deflection so important was the sheer fact that it came just after the Red Elephants had stormed downfield, hitting receivers on three consecutive long pass attempts.
After a 15-yard pass and then a 25-yard pass from Alabama-bound quarterback Blake Sims, Gainesville added one more as time ran completely off in the fourth quarter. As Sims fired another 25-yard strike to the Peach County goal line, receiver Michael Lorentz hauled in one final score to bring the Red Elephants to within one point.
From there, the game became a chess match.
“I thought I was going to have a stroke right there on the last play,” Campbell said with a laugh.
He had a feeling of what was coming next but had to wait to find out.
“There was no doubt (we were going for the win),” Gainesville head coach Bruce Miller said.
Miller cited momentum from the three previous catches as his strongest motivator for leaving his offense on the field.
“We had the play,” he said. “We had to get 3 yards. It just didn’t work.”
Forced to make similar decisions in other tight games this postseason, Campbell understood the gravity of Miller’s choice.
“That’s a hard decision for a coach,” Campbell said. “I feel for Coach Miller, but he felt like he needed to go for two; probably had a better chance at that.”
For his part, Crowell had an inkling of where he thought the conversion attempt was going to go.
“They had one play to win it, and I figured they’d go to their best receiver, No. 9 (Tai-Ler Jones),” Crowell said. “I kind of cheated that way and they threw the ball and I knocked it down.”
Falling to the turf as the ball bounced away, Crowell was mobbed by a pair of teammates as the remainder of the Peach County bench stormed to midfield and celebrated.
As big as Crowell’s final play was, he had two other moments that factored significantly into the win, as well.
With less than two minutes left in the second quarter, as a fullback on offense, he took in a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Trojans a 10-0 halftime lead. The score came one play after Taylor had scrambled around and found receiver Lamar Zanders for a 42-yard completion that put Peach County into goal line territory.
“Before the play, I saw where (Lamar) kind of pointed like he was saying, ‘Just throw it up.’ So I knew he’d be there,” Taylor said.
The senior signal-caller finished with 171 yards passing and with a 68 percent completion rating, looked stronger than the Sims. On 29 attempts, Sims threw three interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter to Crowell.
Picking the ball off at his own 15 before returning it more than 40 yards, Crowell’s interception helped prevent a potential Gainesville score.
Reflecting his impressive individual performance, as well as Peach County’s historical night, Crowell made a modest observation.
“There’s been great teams come through Peach County and to be the first one to go undefeated; it’s very humbling when you realize the great athletes that have come through here,” Crowell said. “I’m excited, and when we get back to the Valley, you’re going to see how excited we really are.”