Saints march to defeat Peach County 14-13 for title

Cedar Grove football players hold up trophy

Photo: Vanecia Thompson

It took Cedar Grove High School and Peach County High School more than two hours to battle for the Class 3A Football state championship on Tuesday, December 11, 2018.

After an electrifying 58-yard kick-off return by Jadon Haselwood and 19-yard run by Robert Jones in the fourth quarter, the Saints were in position to close the six point gap and win the game with time to spare. The crowd, filled with students, parents, teachers and Cedar Grove alumni chanted, “Fire it up Cedar Grove, fire it up!”

A few penalty calls later, the Saints were backed up 15 yards from their original spot and the crowd’s hope of a second championship title in three years seemed to dwindle away.

In the final seconds of the game, Cedar Grove’s tenacity, focus, and sheer hunger for a win made all the difference.

The Cedar Grove Saints football team was crowned Georgia High School Association Class 3A State Football Champions on December 11 in a thrilling final game held at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium. The game ended 14-13 in the Saints’ favor thanks to a last-second pass from quarterback Kendall Boney to receiver Jadon Haselwood, and a successful extra-point kick from Luis Dominguez.

The enthralling play came after a back-and-forth contest that tested the mettle of both teams. The Peach County Trojans held the Saints to just 14 points – well below the Saints’ 46-point playoff average. Cedar Grove head coach Jimmy Smith credited the win to discipline, determination, and belief.

Cedar Grove football lines up for snap

Photo: Vanecia Thompson

“You have to keep coaching and fighting,” Smith said. “We made a lot of mistakes and you have to credit Peach County for how hard they played on defense. The kids just kept fighting on defense until we could get something going on offense. [On the last play,] we got just the coverage we were looking for. Kendall threw it just like he does in practice and Jadon did what he does with the catch.”

Smith said the game was a continuation of Cedar Grove’s performances throughout the season, which were wholly dominant.

“It feels great. The guys can fight through adversity,” he said. “They do a great job of keeping on fighting. We’ve been doing it all year. Situations happen and kids get banged up, but they just keep fighting. I love these guys.”

The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) team, whose overall record concluded at 14-1 for the season, dedicated the entire season to Trevon “Lil’ Trey” Richardson, a former Cedar Grove High student who was killed shortly after graduation in May 2018. Richardson played on the Saints’ football, basketball and track teams.

Haselwood, who is the top football prospect in the Georgia and remained approximately 70 yards shy of claiming DCSD’s receiving record, wore a number 11 instead of his usual number 2 jersey to honor Richardson’s memory. The last play, for Haselwood, was an act of divine intervention.

“I told Kendall, ‘Throw me the ball—this is the last play of the game and I’m going to make it happen,’” Haselwood said. “The man above made it happen for me. When the coach called that play, I knew it was going to happen. I played for [Richardson] today. That’s my bro.”

For quarterback Kendall Boney, the game relied on the team keeping their composure and staying disciplined. He, too, credited a higher power with Cedar Grove’s win.

woman looks up at game board

Photo: Vanecia Thompson

“I told the team, ‘We’ve been here before. We can do this. This ain’t nothing new to us,’” Boney said. “I told them, ‘Let’s keep it going. Keep it going.’ And they did it. None of this would have happened without God and [the team]. And here we are.”

Marquia McNeill, a Cedar Grove High School senior, said the team carried Richardson’s memory the entire season, and that his presence was truly felt during the final game.

“The team celebrated Trey today,” McNeill said. “We knew we were going to win. When he caught the ball, I felt Trey with us.”

Former Cedar Grove football player and 2015 graduate Benjy Parrish credited this year’s teams’ spirit for leading them to victory.

“These boys go hard,” Parrish said. “Cedar Grove is a great school. As an alum, this means a lot, and it means a lot to the community. Go Saints!”

Contributed by Vanecia Thompson and R. Scott Belzer