With the Indians down six, North Gwinnett was set to punt the ball away with less than a minute left to play. Taj Griffin, who returned a punt 85 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of last week’s quarterfinal at Collins Hill, was set to pull off another miracle.
But North Gwinnett denied Griffin the chance to do it again, instead punting the ball out of bounds. With no timeouts, McEachern managed to get off just one play — a 7-yard pass play from its own 35-yard-line — and time ran out, leaving the Indians to settle for a 27-21 loss in Friday night’s Class AAAAAA state semifinal at Walter Cantrell Stadium.
“I have to give credit to North Gwinnett. They beat us,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “We had a plan for that last play, but it didn’t happen. The kids never quit. We played hard right until the last play, and I’m proud to be a McEachern Indian.”
Despite the benefit of playing a home game for the first time in more than a month, McEachern (11-3) was unable to prolong its season. Coupled with Kell’s loss to Creekside in the Class AAAAA semifinals, Cobb County ensured that its championship drought — since Marietta won in 1967 — would continue into a 46th year.
North Gwinnett (13-1) advanced to an all-Gwinnett championship next Saturday, when it will face Region 7AAAAAA rival Norcross at the Georgia Dome.
Before it was stopped at the end, McEachern got back into the game on its previous drive, which began with T.J. Rahming picking up 37 yards on a reverse. Bailey Hockman, who finished with 143 yards passing, hit Artise Clark for a 18-yard pass two plays later to put the Indians on the North Gwinnett 7 before then finishing it off with a 7-yarder to Clark with 2:30 left.
The Indians couldn’t recover the ensuing their onside kick, and the Bulldogs chewed off more than a minute-and-a-half of the clock before punting it back to McEachern.
North Gwinnett running back C.J. Leggett gave McEachern fits throughout the game, rushing for 284 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. Many of his yards came by gashing through the right side of the Indians’ front line.
And Leggett also got a chunk of yardage when his team needed it in the second half.
McEachern gained momentum early in the second half by chewing up 75 yards and nearly 4 minutes of clock on its first drive. Hockman completed three passes that went for double-digit yardage in the series, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass to Trey Scott on fourth-and-11 that tied the game at 14-all.
After the teams traded punts on the next two drives, McEachern had an opportunity to take the lead when Christian Ford intercepted a Hayden Sphire pass to put the Indians on their own 35.
But Hockman was picked off on the next play, and Leggett made the Indians pay when he broke through the McEachern line and scored from 47 yards out, shaking off a couple of a couple of defenders along the way.
That touchdown run gave North Gwinnett a 21-14 lead it never relinquished.
“We got a turnover, they got a turnover and scored,” Kyle Hockman said. “That was a huge momentum-shift. I have to give credit to their running back and blocking. They did a nice job.”
The game couldn’t have started any better for McEachern, which led North Gwinnett 19 seconds into the game.
Rahmoi Parsons intercepted a Sphire pass on the first play of the Bulldogs’ opening drive, and Ty Clemons followed that up with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Rahming.