Before Friday’s game against Westside, Mary Persons’ team chaplain spoke to the team about heart.
Perhaps it was an omen.
Shorter than most of the Bulldogs’ skill position players, running back Corey Head injected a spark into Mary Persons in the second half, snatching momentum away from Westside on multiple occasions and rushing for all but six of his 124 yards and scoring two touchdowns as the Bulldogs held on for a hard-fought 20-17 win over the Seminoles.
“The player that helped us win this game has got the biggest heart on this football team,” Mary Persons head coach Rodney Walker said of Head. “He’s a typical Mary Persons football player. He may not be the biggest or the strongest, but he’s got the biggest heart out there.”
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The win not only clinches a playoff spot for Mary Persons, but is also the 300th career win for Walker and his 298th in Georgia.
“We’ve had two tough years going into the last game and not getting in the playoffs. It’s been a disappointment for us, the players and for the people in Forsyth. They expect it, and that’s the way it ought to be.”
To get into the postseason, Westside will need a win over Perry next week in what will essentially be a play-in game for the state playoffs following Friday’s hard-hitting game.
“It was a good old-fashioned, smash-mouth football game,” Westside head coach Sheddrick Risper said.
As for Walker, his focus was not on a career milestone following Friday’s game. Rather, it was on the gritty performance of the Bulldogs.
“That’s the best our football team has played this year,“ Walker said. “That’s the most complete game we’ve played.”
Trailing 6-3 coming out of halftime, Westside tried to catch Mary Persons off-guard with an onside kick to open the second half. The Bulldogs, however, recovered the onside kick and drove downfield with Head carrying the ball for all but one play of the scoring drive capped by Head’s nine-yard touchdown, which extended the Mary Persons lead to 13-3.
Matters worsened for Westside early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Noah Grayer left the game with an injury. But the Seminoles didn’t flinch, instead pulling within three points when backup quarterback DeQavius Walker connected with Shannon Smith on a 14-yard touchdown.
Mary Persons, however, hit right back. Countering Westside’s passing with its power running out the option offense, Mary Persons leaned on Head and quarterback Jordan Banks, driving nearly 80 yards and wearing down the Westside defense, scoring when Head bounced off would-be tacklers and made his way into the end zone from 31 yards out, stretching the Mary Persons lead to 20-10 with 4:13 to play.
“It feels real good (to run the ball well), I just wanted to help my team to the playoffs,” Head said.
Westside, however, still had some fight left, with Walker and the Seminoles’ athletic receivers coming up with enough plays, setting the table for a Walker pass into the back corner of the end zone hauled in by Jacori Mann with three minutes to play, and Westside trailed by three points, 20-17.
Westside’s comeback got no further, however, as Mary Persons’ Reno Lyons recovered an onside kick, allowing Mary Persons to run some time off of the clock. Westside’s final stab at a win missed shortly thereafter, with Walker’s long pass being deflected into the air and intercepted by Akebren Ralls.