By John Bednarowski sports [email protected]
RICHMOND HILL — In high school football it isn’t often one hears, “Kick the field goal,” before the offense takes a snap.
However, that is what the Allatoona faithful could be heard screaming when the Buccaneers took possession of the ball in overtime following a missed field goal by Richmond Hill to open the extra frame.
After two runs up the middle by quarterback Dante Marshall, the fans got what they wanted.
Jude Kelley strolled onto the field and made the game-winning 22-yard field goal to lift Allatoona to a 17-14 win in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals, setting up an all-Cobb County state championship game against Region 6AAAAAA rival Harrison next Friday.
What was Kelley thinking when he went out for the game-winner?
“Absolutely nothing,” he said.
As far as pressure, Kelley said it was minimal, with one exception.
“It’s not the most pressure I’ve ever faced, but it was the most meaningful kick I’ve ever had,” he said after making his county-record 19th field goal of the season. “I know how much that kick meant to everyone.”
Next Friday at Georgia State Stadium will mark the second time Allatoona will play for a state championship. In 2015, it became the first Cobb County School District program to win a football championship with a 10-6 win over Glynn Academy.
For awhile, it did not look like Kelley would get the chance.
Allatoona (11-2-1) committed four turnovers, had a special teams miscue and was down 14-7 when it got the ball back with 2:29 left to play. Three plays netted nothing, but on fourth-and-10, Marshall connected over the middle with tight end Bennett Christian for 14 yards and a first down.
“Bennett has made some big plays this year,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “We knew they would be trying to keep the ball from (Asante) Das. We went underneath. We have no issue going to (Christian).”
On the next play, Varner listened his coaches in the booth.
“The coaches called down and said we may want to take a shot right there,” he said.
Marshall, who was 5-of-16 passing for 102 yards, put the ball in the outstretched hands of a diving Das in the left corner of the end zone to tie the game at 14-all.
“We had 1-on-1 coverage,” Marshall said, “and I thought he could get it. It was the most beautiful catch I’ve ever seen. He gets all the credit.”
For Das, it was restitution for a first-half fumble.
“I knew I had to make a play,” he said. “When the ball was in the air, I just knew it had to be mine.”
Allatoona nearly had a chance to win the game in regulation.
With 1:18 to play, Brett Blomquist came down with his county-leading seventh interception of the year. Allatoona had the ball at the Richmond Hill 47 and had Kelley warming up, but he had to wait for his chance.
Richmond Hill (9-4) recovered a fumble on the next play to get the ball back at midfield, but just as it did the whole game, Allatoona’s defense rose to the occasion. It forced one more three-and-out to get the game to overtime.
“The defense won the game for us,” said Varner, whose unit allowed 106 yards of total offense for the game, and only 14 rushing yards on 26 carries. “I can’t say how good they were, because whatever I say will diminish the effort.
“I give the kids credit for keeping it together at halftime. With all the mistakes, they were a little shocked, but they rallied and made the plays when we needed them.”
As overtime started, the defense stood tall again. Three plays netted Richmond Hill no yards, and when kicker Britton Williams shanked his field goal attempt from 32 yards, the crowd of Allatoona faithful that made the 5-hour trip to south Georgia could feel the victory.
“I tried to steal a cheap one with a run up the middle,” said Varner, whose team only gained 172 yards of total offense of its own. “We decided to kick it on third down in case of a bad snap.
“When you have a weapon like Jude, he’s a monster.”
Allatoona will get a chance to win its second state title against Harrison, in the first all-Cobb football final. The Buccaneers lost 21-17 to the Hoyas in the regular season, in what proved to be the difference in deciding the Region 6AAAAAA title. It is the only game that Harrison hasn’t won by at least 18 points.
“It’s a huge thing to be part of it,” Varner said. The schools are rivals, but I also hate it in some ways because we are playing each other.
“Coach (Matt) Dickmann has done a great job and we are good friends. We attend the same Bible study group. It’s great to play for a championship, but I hate it because we have to play them.”
Allatoona opened the game on a seven-play, 41-yard drive, which was capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to Zach Jackson. But after that, the Buccaneers could not get out of their own way.
Richmond Hill was limited to 57 yards in the first half, but it benefited from three Allatoona turnovers and the biggest play of the half, a blocked punt.
The special teams miscue set the Wildcats up at the Allatoona 1-yard line, and it took Jalen Rouse only one play to cash it in.
On the first play of the next Allatoona drive, Marshall threw his second interception of the half, as a Richmond Hill defensive back made a diving play in front of Das at the Wildcats’ 45.
On third-and-13, quarterback Tyler Coleman hit Isaiah Allen for a 43-yard gain to the Buccaneers’ 5. Three plays later, Rouse faked as if he was running up the middle, stopped and threw a jump pass over the defensive line to Buckley Bayens for the go-ahead touchdown to lead 14-7 at the half.