Wildcats’ bid for state title falls short against Bowdon
Published 6:58 pm Friday, December 9, 2022
ATLANTA – On Thursday, December 8, the Schley County Wildcats (SCHS) competed on the same playing ground that some of the greatest athletes in the world once competed on. The Wildcats were hoping to add the name of Schley County to the names of former Olympic champions and Atlanta Braves greats who once competed on that same ground when they battled the Bowdon Red Devils (BHS) for the GHSA Class A Division 2 state championship. However, the BHS running duo of senior quarterback Robert McNeal and senior running back T.J. Harvison was too much for SCHS to overcome. As a result, though the Wildcats executed their potent offense throughout the game and made plays on defense, they were unable to stop the Red Devils’ powerful running game and fell to BHS 39-31 at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium, which was once Turner Field and before that, Centennial Olympic Stadium.
The Wildcats conclude their magical season as the state runner up at 12-3, while the Red Devils (14-1) head back to Bowdon, GA as state champions.
“We couldn’t stop the run,” SCHS Head Coach Darren Alford said. “It comes down to that. You’ve got to be able to stop the run. That’s the first thing you do in football. If you cant stop the run, you’re going to struggle to win a football game and that’s basically what happened. They were bigger than us. They were stronger than us and I take that on me as the weight training coach. I should have been better in the weight room with our kids and come better prepared for that. It hurts right now. It stings. It’s going to hurt for a little while. Then the hurt is going to go away and then, we got to go back to work and get started for the next time around,” Alford continued.
Throughout the first half, it was an evenly played contest with the Wildcats answering every scoring drive the Red Devils posted and by halftime, SCHS had a 21-19 lead. However, BHS took the lead in the third quarter and forced the Wildcats into a critical four and out situation after SCHS had moved the ball down to the BHS 12-yard line. That turnover on downs by the SCHS offense proved to be a crucial turning point in the game, as the Red Devils would never relinquish the lead again and would go on to win 39-31.
Kanazawa completed 22 of 32 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns and SCHS senior running back Malachi Banks led the Wildcats’ rushing attack with 67 yards on 16 carries and a rushing touchdown. Junior wide out JaLewis Solomon came up big once again for SCHS with nine catches for 110 yards and a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, while senior wide receiver Clinton Jackson and junior wide receiver Sam Forehand each had one touchdown reception.
The Red Devils drew first blood in the contest by moving the ball into SCHS territory and getting a 30-yard rushing touchdown from Harvison. The extra point by senior kicker Cameron Holloway was good and the Wildcats trailed 7-0 early.
However, SCHS responded. Thanks to a well-orchestrated drive by Kanazawa and the SCHS offense, the Wildcats were able to move the ball into BHS territory and would finish off their scoring drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Kanazawa to Clinton Jackson. The extra point by junior kicker Miguel Yanez-Rueda was good and the score was tied at 7-7 with a little over nine minutes left to go in the first quarter.
The Red Devils responded once again, however, by mounting a drive down to the Wildcats’ 11-yard line. Then on second down from the SCHS 11, McNeal scored on a quarterback keeper. However, Holloway missed the extra point and BHS led 13-7 with a minute to go in the first quarter.
Undaunted, the Wildcats fought back and were able to move the football down inside the Red Devils’ 20-yard line thanks to the running attack of Malachi Banks. SCHS was able to move the ball down to the BHS five-yard line when Kanazawa connected with sophomore wide receiver Jordan Hudson on a long pass play. Then Banks finished off the drive with a five-yard rushing touchdown. Yanez-Rueda’s extra point was good and the Wildcats had a 14-13 lead with 10 minutes left before halftime.
However, the Red Devils, like the Wildcats, got here for a reason and they answered with another scoring drive of their own. BHS moved the ball down to the SCHS 13-yard line before McNeal connected with junior wide receiver Jordan Beasley in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass. BHS decided to go for two points, but the SCHS defense thwarted the attempt and the Wildcats trailed 19-14 with about five minutes to go before the half.
The Wildcats once again had an answer on their next drive and were able to move the ball close to midfield on a quarterback keeper from Kanazawa. A few plays later, SCHS was able to move the ball into BHS territory. Then on third down and 15 from the BHS 32, Kanazawa was able to connect with junior wide receiver Carson Westbrook for a huge 14-yard gain, making it fourth and one from the BHS 18. Banks then kept the drive going by gaining the necessary yardage and then some, moving the ball inside the Red Devils’ 20-yard line. A few plays later, Kanazwa threw a pass to Sam Forehand out in the flat. Forehand was able to elude a tackler and score to give the Wildcats the lead. Yanez-Rueda’s extra point was good and SCHS went into halftime with a 21-19 lead over the Red Devils.
Having won the toss and deferring till the second half, BHS got the ball to start the third quarter and mounted a drive down to the SCHS 33-yard line. Then McNeal completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Asher Christopher, who had gotten behind the SCHS coverage. The Red Devils’ two-point conversion attempt failed, but they were back in front 25-21 with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Wildcats answered by moving the ball all the way down to the BHS 12-yard line. However, the drive stalled and the SCHS offense was forced to turn the ball over on downs. This proved to be a crucial part of the game, as BHS would immediately move the ball into SCHS territory. Then on third down from the SCHS 28, McNeal eluded tacklers and ran the ball 28 yards on a quarterback keeper for another BHS touchdown. This play proved to be a backbreaker for the Wildcats, though there was a minute left in the third quarter and one more quarter to play.
Though SCHS trailed 32-21, the Wildcats refused to quit and marched right down the field to the BHS seven-yard line. They had a chance for a touchdown when Kanazawa tried to connect with Westbrook in the corner of the end zone, but the pass was just beyond Westbrook’s reach. Unfortunately for SCHS, they had to settle for a short Yanez-Rueda field goal and trailed 32-24 with 10 minutes to go in the game.
Instead of risking another scoring drive by the Red Devils, the Wildcats decided to attempt an on-side kick. At first to the 3,000 or so SCHS supporters, it looked as if the Wildcats had recovered the kick and would have a golden opportunity to score a touchdown and possibly tie the game on a two-point conversion. To the Wildcats and their supporters in the house that comprised most of the entire town of Ellaville, it looked as if a BHS player had touched the ball before it had gone the necessary 10 yards, which by rule would have given the Wildcats the ball in great field position. However, the officials ruled that no BHS player touched the ball and that it didn’t go the necessary 10 yards, meaning that the Red Devils would get possession at the SCHS 48. This brought on unbridled fury from the SCHS bench and the fans towards the officials, as it appeared on the replay screen in the stadium that a BHS player had touched the ball.
Nevertheless, it was BHS ball at the Wildcats’ 48 and the Red Devils mounted a drive all the way down to the SCHS five-yard line. Then on first and goal from the five, BHS junior fullback Jordan Beasley scored a five-yard rushing touchdown. Holloway’s extra point was good and the Wildcats found themselves trailing 39-24 with just 4:37 left to try and pull off a miracle comeback in the state championship game.
On the ensuing kickoff, that miracle comeback appeared to be on the horizon, as Solomon took the kickoff 77 yards down the sidelines for an SCHS touchdown, causing the Wildcats and their loyal SCHS supporters to erupt with unbridled joy. Yanez-Rueda’s extra point was good and SCHS was back within one score, trailing 39-31.
SCHS once again tired an on-side kick on its ensuing kickoff, but freshman Berkley Perkins recovered the on-side kick for the Red Devils. With the clock winding down, the SCHS defense would have one last chance to get a stop and get the ball back for Kanazawa and the offense for one last drive for a touchdown and tying two-point conversion. However, the Red Devils were able to mount another drive, moving the ball down inside the SCHS 20-yard line. Though SCHS junior defensive tackle Trenton Stubbs was able to make a tackle for loss during the drive, BHS was able to run the clock down to around a minute before the Wildcats were able to force a turnover on downs and get the ball back. By then, it was too little, too late and BHS would go on to defeat Schley County 39-31 to win the GHSA Class A Division 2 state championship.
While a few seniors will be graduating in May of 2023 from this greatest of all Schley County football teams, the wildcats will have much of their core group back next year and should make another run towards a state championship in 2023.