Unfortunately, what the Buccaneers proved wasn’t enough to beat Burke County as the more proven Bears won 32-28 on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
Jones, Allatoona’s star running back, suffered a concussion with 2:48 left in the third quarter and Burke County leading 25-14.
Watching the rest of the game from the sidelines, Jones saw his teammates rally to take a 28-25 advantage with 7:14 remaining in the game, following a 5-yard touchdown run from T.J. Herron.
The Bears (12-1) answered right back, however, driving 69 yards on 10 plays to record the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run from Corey Mayton on fourth down with 3:47 left in the contest.
Allatoona (12-1) picked up a first down on its final possession, but it turned the ball over on downs and had to settle for the season-ending loss.
Jones, who rushed 18 times for 114 yards and a touchdown, got injured when he tried to tackle Burke County’s Denzell Warthen’s after Warthen intercepted a Jeremy Uzee pass late in the third.
The turnover was one of three in the game for the Buccaneers.
“On the interception they had, I ran to try to make a hit, and had a head-to-head collision and I got a concussion,” Jones said. “I feel, even though I went down, (the team) still kept playing. They played their hearts out and gave it all they got. At the end of the night, it just didn’t go our way.”
Despite the turnover, the Buccaneers’ defense forced Burke County, which will play Gainesville in next week’s semifinals, to punt after three plays.
Trailing 25-14, the rushing workload shifted to Herron and Robert Johnson. Uzee, who was 9-of-20 for 124 yards and the interception, completed first-down passes of 18 yards to Johnson and 12 yards to Herron to help sustain a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Herron, who rushed 13 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns, also had a 21-yard carry during the drive, while Johnson, who had eight carries for 45 yards, rumbled for 16 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 2. Johnson then plowed in for his first touchdown as the Buccaneers trailed 25-21.
Calvin Howard intercepted Mayton on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage following the touchdown, and Johnson would find the end zone again six plays later — a 5-yard run — to give the Buccaneers their first lead of the game, 28-25, with 7:14 left.
“It was something they had inside,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said of his team. “There was no question we were going to keep going. They didn’t even blink. The kids said, ‘We got this. We got this,’ and they kept playing hard.
“Miles left, but we didn’t miss a beat. I was very proud of the kids. They played hard all game.”
However, Donquell Green and Montres Kitchens accounted for 62 of the Bears’ 69 rushing yards during their game-winning drive. Green had 11 carries for 82 yards, while Kitchens totaled 16 rushes for 47 yards and a score.
Mayton, who had 17 rushes for 74 yards and three touchdowns, was stopped short of the goal line on the fourth-down play, but he managed to break the plane off the extra effort.
“We knew it was going to be difficult (to win this game),” Varner said. “They’re a good team. I thought we could have stopped them on that last drive. It didn’t happen for us. It was fourth-and-1, and (Mayton) got in on third effort. It was a great job by that young man to do that. It was just a great high school football game. That’s all you can really say about it.”
For the third consecutive playoff game, Allatoona fell behind early, trailing 14-0 midway through the second quarter. Kitchens scored on a 6-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and Mayton ran in from 3 yards out after Derek Green recovered an Allatoona fumble off a punt return at the 3-yard line with 6:07 left in the second.
A 40-yard pass from Uzee to Kenny Padtha, who had two receptions for 53 yards, on the Buccaneers’ next possession helped set up Jones for a 3-yard score to put Allatoona on the board trailing 14-7 with 3:45 on the clock until halftime.
Mayton’s 33-yard pass to Kitchens on a fake punt allowed Untorrey Thomas to kick a 33-yard field goal as Burke County took a 17-7 lead into halftime.
Allatoona scored on its first possession of the second half after Jones capped a four-play, 64-yard drive with a 50-yard touchdown run, trimming the deficit to 17-14.
Consecutive fumbles by both teams led to Mayton’s 1-yard touchdown run following a 12-play, 74-yard drive. He then ran for a 2-point conversion, giving the Bears a 25-14 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
“We had turnovers in the beginning of the game, and in the first half, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Varner said. “I think you had two quality teams that played real hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if (Burke County takes) all of it.
“I think either one of us could have gone (forward) to be honest with you. I think it was a great game at their place. We had a couple of turnovers you can’t do in the playoffs. Most of the time, in great games, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes ends up walking away, and I think that’s what happened (Friday).”