By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff photographer | Published December 15, 2015
ATLANTA—This past weekend the Georgia Dome hosted a crowd of Blessed Trinity High School supporters, clad in a palette of green, gold and white, on hand to witness their Titans take on the Westminster Wildcats for the Class AAA state football championship, Dec. 11. In the 14 years since the Roswell school has been playing a varsity schedule, this year was the first time since Blessed Trinity opened in 2000 that the school earned the opportunity to compete for the state title in football.
After a missed field goal and turnover, Blessed Trinity was down 6-0 with just under 2:00 remaining in the opening quarter. In the second quarter they shook off some of the early game jitters with a field goal by junior kicker Brooks Hosea and a rushing touchdown by senior running back Milton Shelton to give Blessed Trinity a 10-6 lead, which they took into the locker room at halftime.
Blessed Trinity held Westminster to a field goal its opening drive of the third quarter to close the margin to 10-9. A 49-yard run by senior running back Garrett Dupuis set up his 10-yard romp for a Blessed Trinity touchdown and a 17-9 lead with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The Blessed Trinity defense forced Westminster to punt on its next possession, and after a 41-yard run by Shelton to the two-yard line, senior quarterback Conor Davis punched it in for a touchdown.
Blessed Trinity took a 24-9 lead into the fourth and final quarter, but after Westminster running back Chase Williams made a first down on a fourth down and one at Blessed Trinity’s 33-yard-line, things started to get interesting. With 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, Westminster senior quarterback Rankin Woley ran it in from there, untouched, for a touchdown. Westminster converted its two-point conversion, which made the score 24-17.
With the clock winding down to 8:45 in the quarter, Blessed Trinity’s Shelton ripped off a 64-yard run down to the Westminster six-yard line. On a fourth and goal, quarterback Davis scored from one-yard out to extend the lead to 31-17.
Westminster’s next possession included another run, this time by quarterback Woley, to keep the team’s drive alive after a fourth down and one. Woley followed that up with an 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Joe Egan at the 3:52 mark.
On the ensuing kickoff, Westminster kicked an onside kick, which was mishandled by at least two Blessed Trinity players, and Westminster recovered the ball on the 20-yard line. From there, junior running back Zay Malcome ran it in for a touchdown, and within a span of nearly three minutes Westminster had tied up the game. A mood of disbelief permeated the Blessed Trinity side of the field, but once time expired with the game in a 31-31 tie, the two teams went into overtime and a whole new ballgame began once again.
Blessed Trinity won the coin toss and decided to go on defense first. Westminster’s Malcome scored the first touchdown of the overtime, and the kicker made the point after touchdown to give Westminster its first lead of 38-31 since the beginning of the second quarter.
During Blessed Trinity’s first overtime possession, they drove it down to the five-yard line, but a five-yard penalty on the next play pushed them back to 10-yard line. On first and goal Shelton ran down to the one yard, but as he was being tackled, he tried to make a second effort to extend the ball further toward the goal line, and the ball fumbled out of his hands into the end zone where Westminster’s Egan pounced on it for a touchback.
The loss was a bittersweet way for Blessed Trinity to end its championship run. Shelton, who finished the game with 37 carries for 253 yards, and the rest of the team should not be judged on the final play or the fumble, for it wouldn’t be a fair assessment of the team’s entire body of work. The Titans, who finished the season 13-1-1, should be remembered for their great season of 2015.
After the game Tim McFarlin, Blessed Trinity head coach since 2011, congratulated his team, reminding them that in the last two years they had compiled a record of 26-2-1. McFarlin stated that at the end of the day the team had played for a state championship in just the 16th year of having a football program, and how that achievement spoke to their dedication to the program. Lastly, he told them to consider how they had set the bar for every team that follows them.
Athletic director Ricky Turner, who also coached the team for 11 seasons, said it was a great game between two rival teams that have played each other over the years. Before the state championship game, Blessed Trinity had won six and Westminster had won five of their 11 previous meetings.
“Blessed Trinity knew from the beginning it was going to be a battle,” said Turner. “But I knew our team and players were going to give their all. You have to hand it to Westminster for coming back, but our football team did a great job all year.”
Turner said alumni from every team were represented at the game and the whole experience really brought the Blessed Trinity community together.
“I told the team we’ve gone from first starting out as a program where our opponents would schedule us for their homecoming to now where we are having trouble finding teams to schedule,” said assistant head coach Richard Barden. “That just shows how far we’ve come.”
Quarterback Conor Davis said there are a number of life lessons learned in a state final loss like the team experienced, but not getting too content too early is one that sticks with him. “We thought going into the fourth quarter that we had the game within reach, particularly after going up 31-17,” said Davis. “We let our guard down and it came back to bite us.” At the same time he’s proud of what the team accomplished, and he’s grateful for all the players who stepped up throughout the season when they had to confront adversities and injuries. “We may not have had a team full of college recruits, but we had players with heart,” said Davis.