Sam Pittman recovered a Crisp County onside kick with 1:18 to play to seal the Cedar Grove Saints second consecutive Class 3A state championship 21-14 over the Cougars at Georgia State Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Crisp County blocked a Saints’ punt with 1:30 to play and the Cougars’ Latravious Walker picked pup the bouncing football at the 25 and returned it for a touchdown to cut the Saints’ lead to 21-14 with 1:18 remaining.
A personal foul on the PAT against the Saints set up Crisp County for an onside kick attempt from the Cedar Grove 45. Connor Richmond hit the kick low, but Pittman smothered the ball at the Saints’ 34 to send the Cedar Grove offense into the victory formation.
Two plays later and the Saints seniors were celebrating their third state title in four years, the first under Coach Miquel Patrick who took over for Jimmy Smith who left for Georgia State after winning the second title in 2018.
The game was a defensive battle for most of the first half as Crisp County made the first big play of the game on a 43-yard pass from AJ Lofton to Sirad Bryant to the Saints’ 29. Lofton then got loose for 15 yards and the Cougars (11-4) were knocking on the door with a first and goal at the Saints eight-yard line.
Cedar Grove’s front seven then came up big stopping Crisp twice from the one-yard line, the second time on fourth and goal as N’Korian Newsom and Antonio Taylor stopped Marquise Palmer short of the goal as the first quarter ended.
The first half featured seven punts as both defenses played stout until the Saints began to moved the ball with 2:14 to play in the half.
A 22-yard punt return by Pittman set the Saints up at their own 42 and quarterback Austin Smith rolled out and ran to his left picking up 11 yards to get the 58-yard drive started.
Two plays later senior running back Chavon Wright hit the hole hard off the left side for a 22-yard gain which included getting spun around with him using his hand to keep his balance then pushing a couple of tacklers down to the Cougars 21-yard line.
Smith set up the first score of the game with a 12-yard run to the two-yard line and Wright finished off the drive pushing his way into the end zone with 41 seconds left in the half. Rodjel Caine added the PAT as the Saints went into the half up 7-0.
Senior linebacker Isaiah Ratcliff, who has come up big in the playoffs for the Saints, and Latrelvin Blackamore made consecutive plays in the Cougars backfield to open the second half and the Saints forced a three-and-out.
Wright opened the drive with four consecutive carries for 32 yards as the Saints got down to the Cougar 32. Cedar Grove was facing a third and six at the 37 after an illegal formation penalty on third and one.
Smith found Pittman across the middle for 17 yads to the 20 to keep the drive moving. Two plays later Wright swept around the right side, skipped past a diving tackler and into the end zone with 6:44 remaining. Louis Dominquez hit the PAT to give the Saints a 14-0 lead.
On Cedar Grove’s next possession, a low snap on a punt ended up in a 22-yard punt to set Crisp County up at the Saints’ 37 with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
Lofton converted a fourth and two with a nine-yard run and Marquise Palmer followed up the play with a 20-yard touchdown run around the left side with 18 seconds left in the quarter. Connor Richmond hit the PAT to cut the Saints’ lead to 14-7.
Cedar Grove would answer driving 82 yards in nine plays finished off with a 17-yard pass from Smith to Rashod Dubinion with 9:43 to play to up the lead to 21-7.
Crisp aided by a pair of pass interference penalties on the Saints moved the ball down to the Saints’ six. A fourth down pass to the left corner of the end zone was almost intercepted by Cedar Grove’s Antonio Tayler, his second pass break up in the same spot on the series, and the Saints took over at their own six before the punt would be blocked to tighten the game.
Chavon Wright finished the game with 140 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns to lead the Saints offense. Dubinion would finish with 53 yards rushing and the 17-yard touchdown reception. Isaiah Ratcliff had seven tackles, two for a loss, to lead the Saints’ defense that held Crisp to 161 yards of offense.