By MICHAEL ALEXANDER | Published January 7, 2021
ATLANTA—Marist School is celebrating its 30-14 victory over Jefferson High School in the Class 4A state football championship, which took place at Georgia State University’s Center Parc Stadium on Dec. 29. The win provided a perfect finish to the team’s 13-0 undefeated season.
Marist captured its first state football championship in 1989, and that team went undefeated at 15-0. Before the 2020 feat, the school’s last state football championship occurred in 2003.
The Class 4A matchup was the only state championship game among all classes that featured two unbeaten teams vying for the title. In the first four playoff games leading up to the championship game, Marist outscored opponents 151-7. The team’s formidable defense was responsible for eight shut-outs, breaking the 1989 team’s game record of seven shut-outs.
Marist was the beneficiary of great field position in the first quarter of the game, which allowed them to score two touchdowns: a three-yard scamper by George Parker and 12-yard run by quarterback Champ Davis.
After Jefferson’s Jordan Perry scored two rushing touchdowns of his own in the second quarter, the teams went into halftime tied at 14-14.
Coming out of the break, Marist made some adjustments on offense and called on its defense to clamp down on Jefferson. Without wavering, the offense went back to its triple option with consistency.
“We got out of our rhythm in the first half,” said head coach Alan Chadwick. “We had to get back to basics.”
Marist defensive back and punter Charlie Fleming contributed to the team’s first score of the second half, when he punted the football 57 yards. With 7:44 left in the third quarter, Jefferson was forced to start from its 8-yard-line. On Jefferson’s second play, Fleming tackled running back Kam Robinson for a loss in the back of the end zone for a two-point safety.
Fleming’s skills paid big dividends for the Marist special teams and defense. Two of his three third-quarter punts were over 50 yards and the third was 46 yards. Two of the three punts also pinned Jefferson inside their 10-yard-line. Consequently, the Marist defense held Jefferson scoreless in the second half.
Fleming, who was named the game’s most valuable player, said the coaches emphasized that the kicking game is amplified 10 times in the playoffs.
“During the game I focused on getting the ball off, without getting it blocked and I tried to keep it away from Jefferson’s best punt returners, Perry and Robinson,” said Fleming. “I couldn’t feel better about winning the championship in my senior year. The coaches helped us along the way and they had an awesome game plan we bought into as a team. We had one goal through our entire Marist career and we finally got it done.”
Marist tacked on its 14 remaining points in the fourth quarter. Running back Ian Otten scored the first touchdown from six yards out. With 5:45 remaining in the game, fullback Andrew Mannelly scored the final touchdown on a run from the 18-yard-line.
Boyd Andrews, a defensive and offensive lineman on the 1989 team, attended the championship game.
“Not to take away from the offense and some of the individual standouts, but they played good team defense, which was a key factor in the game’s second half,” said Andrews
“With the extended time between championships, combined with the stress of a pandemic this season, there were times I questioned if and when it would ever happen again,” said Marist head coach Alan Chadwick. “Winning the state championship is the culmination of a lot of relief.”
Reflecting on the 1989 and 2020 teams, Coach Chadwick said there were more similarities than differences. “Both teams were defensive and senior oriented, and the kicking game played an important role,” said Chadwick. “I knew this team was special when I witnessed their caliber of play and determination as seventh-graders. Beyond their talent, they continued to grow as a team with camaraderie, character, dedication and leadership.”
Andrews said, “I’m super glad for everyone on the team, but I’m especially happy for the coaches like Alan Chadwick, Gary Miller and Daniel Perez, who were also around in 1989. They’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years.”
With the win over Jefferson, Chadwick, the head football coach at Marist since 1985, earned his 399th victory.