ATLANTA — As Chad Campbell shared hugs on his way into the Peach County locker room Saturday evening, tears streamed down his face.
They were tears of joy.
“I’m just glad to be a part of (my players’) lives and to see them making history like this,” the head coach said, mere moments after his Trojans claimed their third state championship in five seasons.
Coming on the heels of one of the most dramatic games Peach County had played in his three-year tenure as head coach, there was very good reason for his emotions to overflow.
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For starters, not only did the 13-12 win over Gainesville mark Peach County’s third state title since 2005, but it was Campbell’s first during his time leading the program.
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The victory was the Trojans’ 15th of the season and capped their first undefeated campaign in school history.
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With the once elusive state title now in hand, Campbell joined his brother — Hawkinsville head coach Lee Campbell, whose Red Devils won championships in 2003 and 2004 — on a march into the state coaching record books. Never before had siblings both won state championships in Georgia.
On top of all that, the game finished in dramatic fashion. With no time remaining, Peach County linebacker Luke Crowell batted away a Red Elephants two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game for Gainesville if it were successful.
“Luke’s been making plays like that all year for us both on defense and offense,” Campbell said.
During Saturday’s state final, Crowell made good on his coach’s words by not only coming away with the game-saving deflection, but also hauling in a key interception and scoring Peach County’s only touchdown on a 9-yard run earlier in the game.
The senior said his performance was a credit to Peach County’s coaching staff, one that finally won a state championship after being reorganized following a title in 2006.
“(Campbell) took over the program three years ago, and with two 8-3 seasons following back-to-back state championships, everybody (in Fort Valley) began having their doubts, but this year, he showed how good of a coach he was,” Crowell said.
Just after the Trojans’ 2006 title win, then-head coach Rance Gillespie stepped down and accepted an assistant coaching position at Georgia Southern. Campbell, a longtime veteran Peach County assistant, was promoted into the head position.
Resting firmly on Campbell’s right hand Saturday was the ring the Trojans earned with their 2006 title. As he shared postgame embraces with friends, relatives and players, he routinely patted people on the back with the platinum-colored ring shining luminously from the Georgia Dome’s bright lights.
“All year, he was behind us,” Crowell said of Campbell. “We play the game, but he puts us in position to win.”
Starting senior quarterback Patrick Taylor, who threw for 171 yards in the win, was equally proud of his head coach’s work in helping restore Peach County’s place among the state’s elite.
“I just thank him for all the time he dedicated to us,” Taylor said. “He chose to work with us after school instead of going home to his children. He really put all his heart into (this season), and I’m just so glad it paid off like he wanted it to.”