Malik Herring took his pads, with his grass-stained white Mary Persons jersey over them, off for the final time in Cartersville’s gymnasium, which was being used as a makeshift locker room for the visiting team.
After pacing in a circle while trying to gather his belongings, Herring could no longer contain his emotion. His Bulldogs had come so far, reaching the semifinals of the GHSA Class 4A semifinals but were unable to get one game further and into the state championship.
The tears began to flow as Herring leaned up against a wall. His heart hurt about the fact he didn’t get to experience the glory of a state title with teammates he’s played football with his entire life.
“It’s hard because I’m not playing with my brothers no more, my real true brothers,” Herring said. “They’ve been with me since I was like 5.”
After jumping out to an early two-touchdown lead, Cartersville rallied quickly and ended up defeating Mary Persons 38-17. Herring did post a sack in his final game, although Cartersville’s game plan was designed to operate its plays away from him.
Mary Persons (11-3) did not have an answer for Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 signal-caller in the recruiting class of 2018, as he threw for 227 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.
Herring’s final game came a day after he announced his commitment to Georgia. He’ll trade his Mary Persons jersey in for a Georgia one and very well could go on to bigger and better things in this sport.
But in the moment, Herring understood what taking his uniform off while getting ready for the long bus ride back to Forsyth meant.
“No other jersey will probably feel like that jersey because I got my brothers behind me and who know me so well,” Herring said. “It’s just going to be a different feeling.”
Four who mattered
Herring: In his final game with the Bulldogs, Herring did his part to try and disrupt Lawrence throughout. On offense, Herring recorded two catches for 51 yards, including a 43-yarder on which he drug three defenders down the right sideline.
Lawrence: After a slow first quarter, Lawrence had streaks of four completions and five completions in a row during the game. He was every bit impressive as the five-star status he’s tagged with.
Caleb Spier: Mary Persons’ quarterback ended the game 8-of-12 passing for 99 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown came early on a 47-yard deep ball to receiver Roger Akins.
Trey Creamer: The Cartersville running back was tough to handle as the game got going and ended with 140 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He also added a 29-yard receiving score.
Mary Persons seemed to have all of the momentum when it went up 14-0 early in the first quarter. But Cartersville answered quickly thanks to a big 36-yard gain from Lawrence to Avery Showell. Soon after, Lawrence threw a touchdown to T.J. Horton. That halted the Bulldogs from running away with this game from the start, with the Purple Hurricanes ultimately seizing control.
Running away from Herring: It was clear Cartersville’s game plan was to run its plays away from the Georgia commitment. Running plays went away from him, and Lawrence rolled out a good bit in the opposite direction quite often. It worked as the Purple Hurricanes were able to execute the offense efficiently by doing so.
Lawrence is the real deal: Asked after the game whether Lawrence or Houston County quarterback Jake Fromm is better, Mary Persons head coach Brian Nelson took the diplomatic approach and said both are equally as good. But Lawrence displayed excellent touch on his deep throws and showed off his velocity on the intermediate timing patterns. He’s shifty in the pocket, too, and gave Mary Persons a tough time when it brought pressure.
Penalties didn’t matter: Penalties are often an equalizer in football. That wasn’t the case Friday in Cartersville. The Purple Hurricanes committed seven penalties for 62 yards while Mary Persons was called for five penalties for 36.
Lawrence settled in over time: Mary Persons actually did a good job against Lawrence and the Cartersville offense in the first quarter. After the first 12 minutes, Lawrence was 2-of-4 passing for 4 yards. Shortly after the second quarter began, however, Lawrence connected with Showell, and the points barrage began. Lawrence threw 223 of his yards in quarters two through four.
They said it
Herring on Mary Persons jumping out to an early 14-0 lead: “It’s a great feeling. We really thought we had the game in the bag. The main thing we said was for the offense to keep fighting. Then the offense fumbled. It changed momentum, and it was hard for us to get it back.”
Nelson on the loss: “Nobody really gave us a chance in this game. I thought we played well enough at times. Obviously, Cartersville did a good job. We put them in a situation they probably haven’t been in all year and they responded. … We had chances. We have a lot of seniors upset. A lot of those kids have been with us for a long time.”
Lawrence on Cartersville rallying from a 14-point deficit: “That’s what this team is really good at, playing through adversity. We haven’t really had too much this year, but we knew it was going to come eventually. We were down 14 real quick, but we stayed positive. We knew we could win that game.”