Friday night’s game between South Forsyth and Chattahoochee was going to come down to whoever had the ball last.
It turned out to be Cougars quarterback Travis Marshall.
Marshall connected on an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Colin Lisa with 22.2 seconds remaining, lifting Chattahoochee to a 28-24 victory over South at War Eagle Field.
Marshall was responsible for 479 yards of offense for the Cougars, going 24 of 38 for 368 passing yards and four touchdowns, while adding 111 rushing yards on 14 attempts. His favorite target through the air was Lisa, who had 11 receptions for 243 yards and caught three of his four touchdown passes.
"[Marshall’s] a great football player," South coach Jeff Arnette said. "We knew coming in he was the one who was going to keep them going, make the plays.
"We made some plays on him, but when you play a great player, he’s going to make some plays on you. We struggled on the pass in some key situations."
All of Chattahoochee’s touchdown drives included a connection between Marshall and Lisa. Their fourth, the game-winning drive, was no different.
Down 24-21, their first time playing from behind, Marshall and the Cougars (4-2, 2-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) found themselves on their own 20-yard line. On their first play of the drive, Marhsall connected with Lisa on the left side of the field at the Cougar 44-yard line.
Lisa jumped over a South (3-3, 0-3) defender to catch the ball, then cut across the middle of the field and ran the ball all the way down to the War Eagle 16.
Two plays later, Marhsall hit receiver Avery Ward (3 receptions, 40 yards) on the right side of the field as he faded into the end zone. With the PAT good, the Cougars took back the lead 28-24 with 22.2 seconds remaining in the game.
South quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey’s (4 of 12, 40 yards, INT) Hail Mary pass on the first play of South’s final drive fell into the hands of Chattahoochee’s Myles Hill, sealing the win for the Cougars.
The final quarter was a whirlwind of emotions for the War Eagles. Following a 65-yard kickoff return by Troye Bryan with 16.6 seconds remaining the third, the Eagles found themselves on the Cougars 27, trailing 21-14. On the fifth play of the series, Jeffrey (14 carries, 65 rushing yards) took the ball four yards up the middle for a touchdown, and kicker Brandon McKee’s extra point tied the score 21-21 with 10:03 remaining.
The War Eagles, which had trailed Chattahoochee the entire game, got their chance to go up for the first time when a Marshall pass on the ensuing drive was deflected by South’s Cameron Kline. As the ball dropped to the turf, South linebacker Thomas Mickey made a diving interception with 6:52 remaining in the fourth.
Starting on their own 33, the War Eagles marched 62 yards, led by big runs from Jeffrey, Isaiah Williams (12 carries, 77 yards, TD) and Khalil Rice (3 carries, 23 yards). On the 11th play of the drive from the Cougar 5-yard line, Jeffrey was stuffed for a loss on third down, forcing South to settle for a 24-yard field goal by McKee.
South Forsyth’s exultation soon turned to disappointment, however, as Chattahoochee took the game back in the final seconds.
"We fought and we fought and we fought and had a chance to win the game and we just couldn’t make a play on third down," Arnette said. "It happened there at the goal line and it happened all night."
The War Eagles went 4 of 11 overall on third down, while the Courgars converted half of their third downs, going 7 of 14. Their two final touchdowns came on fourth and third down, respectively.
"Defensively, that was our issue [too]," Arnette said. "We just couldn’t get off the field on third down. [Chattahoochee’s last touchdown] was third down there ... they made the play on third down."
After Marshall connected with Lisa for Chattahoochee’s first touchdown at the 8:33 mark in the first quarter, South answered with its own touchdown with 2:25 remaining in the period with a 12-play, 76-yard drive, capped off by a Williams one-yard touchdown run.
Chattahoochee countered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Marshall found Lisa in the right corner of the end zone and the receiver made an acrobatic one-handed grab for the score.
South didn’t tie the score until the third quarter. After a Cougars fumble on their own 8-yard line, South’s Brett Larkin found the end zone on a one-yard touchdown run two plays later. After both teams traded punts, Chattahoochee put together a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to go up 21-14.
"We’re hurting right now," Arnette said. "[The players] are hurting, but our coaching staff and players will come back Monday and we’ll go back to work."