MILLEDGEVILLE — If teams get to the Georgia Dome these days, they typically will have to play Cairo to do so.
It may be down in south Georgia, or the Syrupmakers may have to make the long drive. But a trip to the Georgia Dome has included in recent years either a trip to or visit from Cairo.
This time, Baldwin got to play the Syrupmakers in the postseason, and now the Braves know the feeling of a season ending at the hands of the program with maybe the state’s most unique nickname.
Baldwin got on the board in the final minutes, but Cairo got the big first downs to keep the clock running and hold on for a 9-7 win Friday night in a GHSA Class AAA second-round playoff game.
It was a heartbreaker for the Braves, who lost in the third round last year after two straight first-round exits.
Baldwin head coach Jesse Hicks sat in his office when a teary-eyed player walked in to thank Hicks and tell him he loved him. Another player followed with similar emotions, and the big head coach had moist eyes when he walked out of the office.
“It’s just tough for these seniors,” he said. “That last meeting was so emotional.”
Hicks was happy with his team’s fight, especially considering the roadblock.
“I can’t say enough about Coach and his kids,” Hicks said of Cairo and head coach Tom Fallaw. “That’s Cairo football. They play to the end. And our kids are developing that same attitude. I’m not satisfied, but I enjoyed the way the kids fought.”
Baldwin was in desperate straits, trailing 9-0 and awaiting Cairo’s fourth-and-6 from the Braves’ 10.
Given a reprieve on an incomplete pass, the Braves had 90 yards of real estate to cover against a defense as good as their own.
But Baldwin started moving, getting a spark from Brandon Thomas, who hadn’t carried the ball until then.
“It looked like (Altovise) Harris was kind of limping,” Hicks said. “We’re comfortable with any one of them running. (Thomas) came in and gave us a little spark. That’s what you expect from a senior.”
He ran five times for 30 yards to get the Braves into Cairo territory, but the Syrupmakers responded and stopped the drive on their 36 and forced a punt.
Hicks called for a fake, and lanky punter Derek Burnett got 9 yards on fourth-and-8. A chop block pulled the Braves backward and set up another fourth-and-long.
But Cairo was called for simulating the snap count, and that cut the yardage needed down, and Hicks passed on a field goal and went for it, quarterback DeAndre Thomas getting 6 on fourth-and-5. Thomas took scored two snaps later from 4 yards out, and suddenly the Braves were alive.
Cairo tailback Laquinton Williams took care of that. He carried nine times on 10 plays, twice getting time-killing first downs before fumbling with 46 seconds left on Baldwin’s 31.
“(Williams), it just looked like he was falling for 4 yards every time he got that football,” Hicks said. “We didn’t need but one stop. We just couldn’t get it.”
Baldwin wasted good field position in the first half, and Cairo’s passing game came through when Brian Walker threw the Syrupmakers down the field, including into the end zone from 12 yards out with 1:28 remaining in the half despite eight penalties.
Cairo got a cushion when Quinton Jones blocked a punt that rolled through the end zone for a safety with 6:56 left in the third.
Cairo then started on its 49 after the free kick and was inside the 25 in four plays. The Syrupmakers got another procedure call on fourth-and-1 from the 5, called time, and then just missed on a pass to the end zone.
Baldwin then embarked on that huge drive to get back into it.
“We figured it would be a low-scoring game,” said Fallaw, whose team broke up the drive of about five hours with a stop at Perry. “And the team that hung in there an battled through mistakes and didn’t let mistake both you was going to win.”
Baldwin battled its own mistakes and couldn’t quite take advantage of the Syrupmakers’ micues.
“That’s two good football teams, man,” Hicks siad. “That’s all that was. We just happened to come out on the short end.”