By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published December 21, 2017
ATLANTA—For the first time ever, the two teams competing for Georgia’s Class AAAA football championship were from Catholic high schools. Roswell’s Blessed Trinity High School defeated Marist School 16-7 to claim the trophy. Originally scheduled for Dec. 9 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the game was rescheduled to Dec. 15 because of Atlanta’s surprise pre-Christmas snowstorm. The two teams played at Marist School’s Hughes Spalding Stadium.
Blessed Trinity came into the game with a 12-2 record, and Marist was 14-0 before the game. Before the kickoff, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory led a prayer before an estimated crowd of over 6,000 spectators. After the customary coin toss with the team captains at midfield, the athletic directors of each school—Marist School’s Tommy Marshall and Blessed Trinity’s Ricky Turner—joined the captains in taking a knee to pray the Our Father. And with that, it was the clash of the Titans and the War Eagles over the next four quarters.
The defensive squads of the two teams tried to set the tone early. Each team had to turn over the ball and punt it away to the opponent during its first two offensive series. But just before the end of the first quarter, Blessed Trinity quarterback Jake Smith completed a long pass to wide receiver Ryan Davis that put them deep in Marist territory. With 11:10 remaining in the second quarter, Smith threw a touchdown pass to Davis for the game’s first score.
“Jake threw a good ball in the right spot,” said Davis. “When I caught the ball, came down with both feet inbounds and saw the referee raise his hands to signal a touchdown, it was a wonderful feeling to take the lead.”
On Marist School’s next possession, Blessed Trinity’s defense halted the drive after a failed third down conversion. When Blessed Trinity took over on offense, they advanced the ball all the way to the red zone, but their drive was upended when Marist defensive back Eric Boyd intercepted Smith’s pass with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Marist had two more opportunities to score before the half ended, but the Blessed Trinity defense kept them out of the end zone.
“There was no panic on the part of the team after failing to score and take a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter,” said Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin. “We felt our defense had to stop Marist School’s initial drive to start the second half. Our defense had led the way throughout the playoffs and that takes a lot of pressure off the offense.”
Neither team scored in the third quarter, though. Both teams missed field goal opportunities and the 7-0 lead that Blessed Trinity established in the first half of the game held. However, Blessed Trinity’s Davis pointed out that the snowstorm provided an extra week to prepare for the Marist game and the team was mentally and physically locked in on what their coaching staff told them.
Fourth quarter pressure
The Blessed Trinity defense continued to keep the pressure on Marist going into the final quarter. Marist School’s first possession of the fourth quarter ended with a punt from its own 1-yard line, which resulted in Blessed Trinity field position on the Marist 45-yard line. Two minutes and 22 seconds later Blessed Trinity scored its second touchdown on a 3-yard run by Steele Chambers to take a 14-0 lead.
With 3:37 remaining in the game, Marist scored its first touchdown on a 7-yard run by Charlie Addicks to cut the deficit by seven. The Marist defense forced Blessed Trinity to punt on its next possession, but Marist took over on its own 7-yard line with 1:33 left in the game. With 52 seconds left in the game, the Blessed Trinity defense lived up to the old adage that “defense wins championships” when lineman Raleigh Barden tackled Marist quarterback Chase Abshier in his own end zone for a safety, thereby ensuring a victory for Blessed Trinity and its first Class AAAA state high school football championship.
Marist was held to 63 rushing yards and Abshier accounted for 27 of them. The team also had 124 passing yards. It was the lowest scoring output of the entire season for a team that had averaged 33 points per game over the four previous playoff games and 35 points per game during the regular season. Marist was making its 10th appearance in the state football finals since 1979. The school’s last championship was a 2003 win over Statesboro. This year’s team was also embarking on the football program’s first undefeated season (15-0) since winning the Class AAA championship in 1989.
Blessed Trinity’s Smith completed 11 of his 12 passes for 111 yards. Elijah Green led the way in rushing with 86 yards on 15 carries. Davis led the team in receiving yards with 7 catches for 61 yards. Blessed Trinity’s first state finals appearance in 2015 at the Georgia Dome resulted in an overtime loss (31-38) to Westminster.
There was very little faith in Blessed Trinity at the beginning of the season.
“Our team was picked to lose in the second round and finish out of the top five in Class AAAA,” said McFarlin.
The coach felt there were legitimate reasons for such thinking.
“We lost all of our offensive and defensive linemen last year to graduation. All five starting offensive linemen and three of our four defensive linemen are first-year starters,” said McFarlin. “But I noticed toward the end of the regular season, and particularly after our October home loss to Marist, the players on both sides of the ball made a conscious effort to get better every week.” He said the team’s chemistry intensified, and by the time the playoffs started, the team was hitting its stride. Down the stretch they won four playoff games on the road, including the final win at Marist.
“It feels wonderful to win the state championship,” said McFarlin. “It’s something that can be shared with school, the community, the players and their families. To have been a part of all the school spirit, and support we’ve seen during the playoff weeks, has been tremendous.”
“This win is a tremendous honor and achievement for the Blessed Trinity football program and for the entire BT community,” said Turner. “For the past 18 years, many talented athletes have played for us and helped grow BT into the success it is today. I feel blessed I was given the opportunity to start this program, but I am even more proud of the way Coach McFarlin has developed the Blessed Trinity Titans into a state championship football program.”