By MICHAEL ALEXANDER | Published December 18, 2019
ATLANTA—Former University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz once said, “People eyeing you as a potential leader tend to ask three questions: Are you committed? Do you care about me? Can I trust you?”
During the 2019 football season, the underclassmen on Blessed Trinity High School’s team trusted the upperclassmen leaders to form a cohesive bond, committed themselves to a common goal and followed the instructions of a caring coaching staff. All the effort and hard work culminated with a 17-14 victory over Oconee County, Dec. 14, on “Pete” Petit Field at Georgia State University Stadium. It’s the Titan’s third consecutive Class AAAA state football championship.
Blessed Trinity scored the first three points of the game after senior kicker Aaron Werkheiser converted a 34-yard field goal. Three minutes later, Oconee County quarterback Max Johnson connected with West Weeks on a 34-yard touchdown pass. The point after touchdown (PAT) was good and Oconee County took its first lead of the game, 7-3.
The defenses set the tone for the remainder of the first quarter and most of the second quarter. Both teams went scoreless until Blessed Trinity senior running back Elijah Green broke off a 30-yard run for a touchdown with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter. Werkheiser’s PAT was good, and Blessed Trinity regained the lead, 10-7.
With 27 seconds remaining in the first half, Green took a hand off from junior quarterback Duncan Reavis and ran 66 yards for another touchdown. Werkheiser converted the PAT again and Blessed Trinity took a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Although Blessed Trinity did not score in the second half, its defense forced Oconee County to eat up over five and a half minutes for the one touchdown and PAT to make it into the third quarter. It trimmed the deficit to three points at 14-17.
Both teams had to punt the ball away to the opposition during their first possessions of the fourth quarter. Blessed Trinity would take over for the second time in the quarter on its 10-yard-line, with 8:57 left in the game. By controlling the time of possession for the remainder of the game, Oconee County’s offense would never take the field again.
Two plays proved crucial during this stretch. The first came with 4:46 remaining in the game. On third down, with 14 yards to go for a first down, Reavis faked a handoff to Green, rolled out and threw a 38-yard pass reception to senior tight end Grayson Gilder to take the ball down to the Oconee County 32-yard-line.
The second vital play occurred with 3:33 left in the game. On fourth down, with the ball on the 24-yard-line, two yards were needed to make a first down. The Titans had the option of kicking a field goal, which would leave time for Oconee County to try to tie or win the game, or they could go for it. Blessed Trinity coaches made a gutsy call in the form of a trick play—a reverse. Reavis, Green and junior wide receiver Carson Harof executed it to perfection. They made the first down, plus some, which further extended the drive until the game clock expired and victory was in hand.
“Sometimes you dial up something you hope that works, and it worked in a big way,” Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin said after the game. “We practiced that play for three weeks. We called it and the players made it happen.”
Green and Reavis shared similar sentiments following the game.
“There were a lot of doubters and people who questioned us, but we knew we could do this,” said Reavis.
“This championship is particularly special, because a lot of people counted us out after losing so many good players from last year’s team,” said Green. “To prove people wrong feels so amazing.”
Green finished with 21 carries for 208 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.
For Nate Matthews, a senior fullback and first-year player, the championship capped off an emotional week. The Monday after the semifinal win over Woodward Academy, his 59-year-old father, Jeffrey, died of pancreatic cancer.
“After the Woodward game, my father said we were going to win the state title and I told the team,” said Matthews.
The team rallied behind Matthews, as they wore a decal on their helmets with the initials JM. “This is all for my dad, and I know he would be so proud,” added Matthews.
During a postgame meeting of players and coaches, back on the Roswell campus in a locker room of Jessica Turner Memorial Field House, McFarlin first thanked his assistant coaches.
In addressing the players, he said, “I just want you to know this team will always be dear to us. You did something special today!”
He also singled out Matthews. “This week you have been a great model and example to all of us in the way to live out your faith in Jesus Christ,” said McFarlin.
McFarlin won one state championship with Roswell High School before coming to Blessed Trinity in 2011. Now he’s won three with Blessed Trinity, an extraordinary accomplishment for a school that has only been in existence since 2000. Throughout the night after the game, McFarlin was met with numerous comments about winning three straight championships. On his way out for a celebratory dinner with his family, he heard it once more, smiled and simply said, “Good coaches and good kids.”