From Trojan field in Milledgeville on a cool brisk Friday night, John Milledge Academy came up just one play short of going to the state championship game. The Valwood Valiants eked out a 27-24 win to advance to the title game next week in Valdosta.
With electricity in the air and in front of an estimated almost 2,000 Trojan supporters, the J.T. Wall coached Trojans fought until the last play. JMA took the ball first and seemed to have a first down on a fake punt, but came up two yards short. The Valiants then scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass and took an early 7-0 lead. But the Trojans were not to be deterred and marched back down field behind the running of Cooper Morgan, Tommy Pittman and Brantley Attaway. Also on the drive, Attaway connected with Drew Reece for a 20-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
Morgan had 27 yards on the drive that culminated it with a 2-yard touchdown plunge to pay dirt making it 7-7 after the Trent Thiel extra point kick.
Valwood then took the all on its next possession and scored on a 39-yard pass with 47 seconds left to play in the first quarter. Valwood’s running back was like a pinball throughout the first half as he ran and bounced around for 78 yards on five carries in the first two quarters.
The Trojans were looking to knot it up at the half, but fumbled to kill the drive with 1:11 to go before halftime.
Coming out to start the third quarter with a 14-7 lead, Valwood struck quickly and scored on a 35-yard run, making it 21-7 early in the third quarter. That's when Wall and his team seemed to say it would not happen in their house.
Pittman was the workhorse on the next Trojan drive with 37 yards before giving way to Morgan, who blasted in for his second touchdown from one yard out making it 21-14. This seemed to spark the JMA defense as they forced a three and out.
Attaway went to the air on the next drive connecting with Chris Sealey and Tyler Arthur for some big gains, before Morgan once again punched it over from one yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Colby McCommon, the holder on the extra point, took a bad snap and calmly snatched it back down, allowing Thiel to make it 21-21 with a lot of time to go. The Trojans seemed to have the momentum on their side as they forced a fumble on the Valiant’s next play, with Jeremy Pinkston getting the recovery.
JMA could only get one first down on the drive, but Thiel connected on a 23-yard field goal, putting the Trojans up 24-21. That's when the one play came into the equation for the game. Valwood once again fumbled as Andrew Hayes recovered it, but one official came in to say the Valiant player was down on the play. After a meeting the Valiants kept the ball, and the visitors then went on to score another touchdown but missed the extra point making it 27-24 Valiants with 4:09 to play.
Morgan showed that he and his teammates came to play as they marched down field to make it fourth and two yards to go. But a penalty nullified a first down and put the Trojans in a long fourth down. The Valiants’ defense made a play to stop the Trojans just short of their goal — the state championship game.
After the game, Wall, his coaches and the JMA supporters all told the Trojan team of the pride they felt for a team that had finished the season 12-1. But as you looked at each player, it was evident that they knew they may hurt for this loss, but they walked off with heads held high with Trojan pride.