In game that wasn’t meant to be, South Forsyth did everything it could to bottle up a miracle.
The War Eagles led Colquitt County—the state’s defending Class AAAAAA state champion, owners of a 27-game winning streak and a No. 2 national ranking by USA Today—31-28 with less than 10 minutes on the clock, with the ball, on the Packers’ 42-yard line. Quarterback Davis Shanley, who had connected with senior receiver Jalen Camp for three scores already, tried for a fourth when Quan Singletary rode Camp’s hip and intercepted a deep ball. Three more interceptions later, and Colquitt escaped War Eagle Stadium with a 49-31 victory on Monday night to advance to the state semifinals against Mill Creek.
For South, the storybook season ended, officially, with an 11-2 record, playoff wins over two teams (Norcross, Tucker) with four combined state titles since 2008 and a tie for the deepest state playoff run in program history. When asked if he ever envisioned such a season, South head coach Jeff Arnette found a reason to sneak in some humor.
“I’m dumb enough to think we could do this,” Arnette said. “Nobody else thought we could, but it just took me to get a bunch of guys to believe the same thing and that’s what happened here tonight.
“All you need to say about this football team is, we aren’t supposed to be where we are. We beat two teams and then almost beat the second best team in the nation. You can’t measure heart, and this team here has got as much of it as a football team could possibly have.”
South trailed 28-17 with eight minutes in the third quarter when Shanley found Camp on a deep pass down Colquitt County’s sideline. The Packers’ defender tripped while hand-checking with Camp, then Camp casually caught the ball and jogged the last 50 yards.
With just as much calm, Julian Mingo, who had been flagged 15 yards earlier for continuing a play without his helmet, managed to intercept Colquitt County quarterback Chase Parrish three plays later, having his helmet blasted off as he hung onto the football in traffic at the 3-yard line. Then, to start the fourth quarter, Sam Outlaw punched in from 2-yards away to give the War Eagles a 31-28 lead.
The Packers’ Nate Powell fumbled after getting injured on a short run moments later, but South’s ensuing interception was followed by a 75-yard scamper from backup running back Ty Lee, setting up his own 8-yard score. After a tipped punt from South went just 2 yards, Lee scored again, bouncing away from trouble and back to his own sideline, from 29 yards. The Packers put the game away when Akivie Bailey returned Shanley’s last interception 76 yards to the end zone with 1:31 to play.
South took a 17-7 lead early. Up 3-0 after a 34-yard field goal from senior Alex Barbir, Shanley evaded the rush twice on a third-and-long, then threw the ball into a tight window to Camp, who turned around and took off for a 63-yard touchdown. After a Powell touchdown for the Packers, South got the ball on the scoring-side 17 when Arkansas commit Kiel Pollard dropped a punt. Shanley hit Camp on a fade in the near corner on the next play.
Lee scored on a 9-yard run, then Pollard caught a 13-yard touchdown on a slant to take a 4-point lead into halftime. Pollard scored again with 8:14 in the third, from 1 yard, to extend the lead to 11 before South started its comeback.
Colquitt County outgained South, 444 to 319, and was down in the turnover battle by two before its flurry of late interceptions. Singletary and Bailey each finished with two interceptions, while Jamarius Walker had one.
Camp finished with five catches for 183 yards and three scores, while fellow senior Cameron Kline had a sack in his final game.
Lee led the Packers with 12 carries for 173 of the team’s 250 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Parrish, who entered the game with 32 touchdowns and just three picks, was held to 15-of-25 passing for 194 yards, a score, and an interception.
Shanley completed 16 of 32 passes for 263 yards, while Outlaw led the team on the ground with 14 carries for 33 yards.
Seniors Camp, Outlaw, Kline, Barbir, Tereh George, Austin Harvey, Elijah Smith, Curtis Roach, Stanley Epeagba, Seth Sasser, Ryan Coangelo, Connor Hite, Logan Troye, Grant Umberger, Trey Green, Toki Adeosun, Blake Oldfield, Ennor Armah, Riley Hall, Sandy Barstow, Zane Martin, Matthew Jagoe, Quenten Campbell, Sam Schouten and Ronnie Chambliss all stood up and huddled with Arnette in the middle of the postgame address.
“I’ve been blessed by God to get to coach them jokers,” Arnette said of his seniors. “They’ve been like that probably since they came to work out in spring of their eighth grade year. They come from great parents, are great kids, and gave us everything they had for four years. They were here, doing what they’ve done, because they worked their butts off.