High School Sports

Peach County holds off Jackson for title, enters postseason on a high note

By Brad Harrison

sports@macon.com

Peach County receiver Devonte Howard (3) runs down the sideline during the Trojans' game against Jackson Friday night.
Peach County receiver Devonte Howard (3) runs down the sideline during the Trojans' game against Jackson Friday night. jvorhees@macon.com

Peach County fans and players carried around a whiteboard with “Region champs’ written on it moments after Friday’s thrilling 24-21 win over Jackson. Taking turns with the celebratory prop summed up how the Trojans’ latest region title-winning game went Friday as it was in so many ways a shared effort.

In a game that swung back and forth, the night was filled with highs and lows for the Trojans with an early 14-0 lead and big plays on defense. It all set up special teams to be in the spotlight with Mitchell Fineran’s game-winning field goal with 1:21 to play before the Red Devils drove downfield but missed a field goal goal of their own by Dallas Goddin from 52 yards away.

Jackson (7-3, 5-1 GHSA Region 2-3A) finishes second in the region with Peach County (9-1, 6-0) claiming the crown, exacting revenge on a Red Devils team a year after it claimed a 3-2 win.

The Trojans tried to put the Red Devils away, twice leading by two touchdowns. But the dangerous playmakers kept Jackson close, and Jackson tied it up with 6:03 to play when quarterback Shaderious Crowder scrambled to find Deontae Barlow on a 94-yard touchdown.

But the Trojans did not flinch. Passes of 15 and 14 yards from Trojans quarterback Antonio Gilbert to Devontae Howard followed by a 23-yard Chris Gibson run advanced Peach County far enough downfield for the game-winning kick.

Five who mattered

Gilbert: He got the Trojans going early, completing two passes of more than 10 yards on the first two plays from scrimmage. Shortly after, on a fourth-and-short at the Jackson 14, he drove 13 yards up the middle to the goal line, scoring a play later. He also connected with Howard later in the quarter for a 14-0 lead. In the second half, Gilbert had to bear down but still found a way to get the job done, spearheading one touchdown drive and also making enough plays to set up the game-winning field goal. He finished 19-of-31 for 244 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground.

Fineran: Even after missing a 50-yard field goal, he wasn’t shaken by the big moment. He drilled a 35-yard field goal to put the Trojans ahead with less than two minutes to play.

Crowder: The Red Devils didn’t break many big plays by way of running back Antavius Grier, but Crowder more than made up for it with his running ability keeping Peach County’s defense on its heels as he threw for 298 yards and constantly made plays out of the pocket. It was perhaps summed it best in the fourth quarter. With the Red Devils backed up at their own 6-yard line on a third-and-long. Flushed out of the pocket, he found Barlow in the seam, and Barlow raced 94 yards to tie the game and bring the raucous Jackson fans to a state of euphoria.

Worth mentioning

Slowed after a start: The way the game began, it had the makings of a Peach County rout. The Trojans had a lot of success with a quick passing game, scoring on their first two drives. That, however, was before Jackson adjusted, giving the Trojans some looks they had not seen on film. Peach County’s offensive rhythm was disrupted as a result.

Turned over: The Trojans turned the ball over twice in the first half, and one of those led to Jackson’s first touchdown. A more costly miscue was to come later. After jumping on a muffed Jackson punt in the fourth quarter, the Trojans were driving inside the Jackson 20-yard line and were on the threshold of going up 28-14 with less than nine minutes to play. But Gilbert was intercepted by Jamarkius Bowden, keeping Jackson’s hopes alive. It scored on the 94-yard pass by Crowder moments later.

They said it

Peach County head coach Chad Campbell on getting the win against Jackson: “The kids fought hard and made stops when they had to. They’ve got a good football team; we knew that going in. We didn’t think it was going to be a pushover coming in, that’s two football teams with a chance of going a long ways.”

Campbell on what changed after the fast start: “Defensively, they went to a different look in the second quarter that we hadn’t worked on all year. But the kids worked hard and adjusted. (Gilbert) I thought he played pretty well, especially considering he’s pretty much playing on one foot. He showed a lot of grit and determination.”

Campbell on the Trojans’ ability to bounce back: “We’ve got some confident kids. I think the Mary Persons game this year really, really helped us out a lot. The kids didn’t waver at all.”

Gilbert on winning after last year’s 3-2 loss: “It feels really good. Last year, losing 3-2, we knew had to come out here and do our thing.”

Fineran on his mindset before the kick: “I just trusted in myself and just visualized it. ”

What’s next?

The Trojans host Tattnall County in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs next week.

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