ATLANTA – Kam Burnett couldn’t hear and couldn’t talk, but he could cry.
Tobias Oliver knelt down and stared at the turf, worn out, while all around him danced, cried, hugged and shouted.
And the party in the stands continued.
Northside dug a first-half hole, and Oliver, as he has done several times this season, pulled the Eagles out with a strong second half en route to a 25-18 win over Mays in the GHSA Class AAAAA title game at the Georgia Dome.
Trailing 18-7 at halftime, thanks mostly to a pair of big pass plays, Oliver acknowledged it was time to do something.
“I missed a couple of reads, had overthrows, just easy stuff,” Oliver said from his exhausted kneeling position. “I knew I had to take over. I just knew it. I hadn’t performed to the best of my abilities in the first half, so I knew I had to get myself together at half.”
The Eagles had to punt after a nine-play drive to open the third quarter, but the Northside defense got the ball six plays later.
Then Oliver handed off to Willie Jordan, who flipped the ball back to Oliver, who threw a strike to a waiting and open Nate Greene for a 70-yard touchdown with 4:24 left in the third quarter. Justin Alonso’s kicked pulled the Eagles within 18-14.
The defense kept rocking, getting plays from Burnett, Cortez Fields, Josh Vickers and Chris Wright to force another three-and-out.
“Our defense came out, and it was huge for them to get a stop after that score and get the ball right back to our offense” head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “I felt (Mays) might get on their heels and the pressure would be on them to keep us out of the end zone.”
Northside followed with a typical Eagles drive – long – but without the usual focus – Jordan. Mays was determined to stop Jordan, and the Raiders held him to 71 yards on 24 carries.
But that left the perimeter open, and in the second half, Northside started utilizing it.
“We called some straight quarterback runs for (Oliver),” offensive coordinator Chad Alligood said. “He just had to settle down. After he made a couple of plays, he settled down and did good.”
Oliver gained 43 on two runs, but soon the Raiders’ defense stiffened and forced a 32-yard Alonso field goal, pulling the Eagles within 18-17 less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Up stepped the Eagles' defense again, this time with Tae Daley, Rakwon Young and Isaiah Johnson keys in the short possession as the momentum, while not smothering, favored Northside.
A shovel pass to Jordan got 6 and Oliver kept for 7. Oliver kept again, for 47 and a slashing touchdown.
Jurmon Weaver, whose appendicitis only a few days before the season opener put Oliver at starting quarterback for the season, then made a superb low-reaching catch for a two-point conversion, and the Eagles led 25-18 with 8:31 remaining.
Tyree Williams’ blitz and sack stifled Mays’ next possession, but Jordan fumbled on Northside’s first play, giving Mays the ball on Northside’s 21.
Mays got to the 1, lost 5 on a penalty and threw incomplete, thanks in part to Robert Jones’ pressure, and then it missed badly on a short field goal try.
Northside killed only 88 seconds and punted to Mays, which started on its 37 with 2:09 left.
One first down later, Fields flushed quarterback Asahnia Aderhold, and his fourth-down pass was behind Derontay Langford with 1:07 left. Burnett was crying before he reached the sideline after the play.
“We just played hard,” he said, trying to find words. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to say.”
The celebration started as Alonso punted from midfield with 12 seconds left, with the Raiders failing to stop the clock by fielding the punt.
And Oliver couldn’t move, Burnett was in a daze, Jordan bear-hugged running backs coach Mark Estes, and there was soon a pileup on the GHSA logo at midfield.
It was a rough first half for the Eagles, who did get off to a nice start when Jay Kendrick grabbed a pass deflected by Williams and took it in for a 16-yard touchdown.
The Raiders then scored touchdowns on pass plays of 19 yards, 76 yards and 29 yards, two to Randrecous Davis and all well-executed.The 29-yarder came on the final play of the half, giving Mays an 18-7 lead.
“Halftime, we came in like we had already lost,” Jordan said. “Coach picked us up. He told us we had a new game plan to get to the outside.”
And to get to the podium where the postgame trophy presentation took place.
“I'm just happy for them, that they were able to come back and play the way they did,” Kinsler said. “That's the thing about these kids. Like some of the other games we've had this year, they just found a way to get it done."