The Greyhounds (7-4) trailed by six with 9:47 remaining in the game after Wisdom Nzidee nailed a 32-yard field goal to put the Jaguars (8-2) in front 17-11.
Pope, the No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAA, fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff return, Stephenson recovered, and that led to a 21-yard touchdown run from Evan Jones for a 13-point margin.
Another fumble on the second play of the Greyhounds’ next possession didn’t lead to points for the Jaguars, but the Region 6AAAAA runner-up did manage to run 2 minutes off the clock and nursed its lead before settling on a punt.
On Pope’s next drive, Khalil Ladler intercepted Stephen Skruck’s pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown, sealing the victory for Stephenson with a little less than 4 minutes left.
Sam Yarborough was also intercepted on the Greyhounds’ final drive of the game, and Stephenson picked up two first downs over the final 2:39 to run out the clock and earn the victory.
Stephenson will next travel to East Paulding in the second round.
“Against a good football team like that, you have to be perfect,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “The turnovers were the difference. Our goal was to get it into the fourth quarter and try to make it interesting. We turned the football over and it seemed like they had 14 points in a matter of 10 seconds.
“The unfortunate part is that 31-11 makes it look like it was a blowout, but it was anything but a blowout. It was a battle. For our football team to play a football team like that — and it was only 14-11 going into the fourth quarter — that is a tribute to how hard our kids played and how much heart they played with. (Stephenson has) more athletes on the kickoff team than we have in our whole school, but our guys came out and played with a lot of passion and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Pope took a three-point lead when Marshall Hansen converted a 24-yard field goal with 8:33 left in the half.
A 38-yard completion from Justin Holman to Saddiq Green set up Jahmal Daniels for a 7-yard touchdown run that put Stephenson in front 7-3 with 6:52 left until halftime.
After the break, Ryan Hanley intercepted Holman on the second play of the second half, but the Greyhounds couldn’t capitalize.
Stephenson answered with a heavy dose of Jones, who carried the ball six times for 71 yards on a drive that culminated with his 6-yard scoring run at the 6:31 mark of the third quarter.
Jones finished the night with 20 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
An 18-yard run from Skruck, and a 19-yard completion to Mason Shiflett, led to Ronald Woods’ 6-yard touchdown run. Skruck’s 2-point conversion completion to Logan Carr brought Pope to within three with just less than 3 minutes remaining in the third.
Woods rushed 17 times for 65 yards and a score, while Skruck was 5-for-13 for 58 yards and an interception. Skruck also carried the ball seven times for 52, while Shiflett had three catches for 49 yards.
Holman was 11-for-17 for 145 yards for Stephenson. Bernard Barnes caught three passes for 55 yards.
“If it wouldn’t have been for the turnovers, I think this game would have come down to the last series,” Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell said. “We were fortunate enough to get a couple of turnovers and turn them into points, and that broke the game open for us in the end.”