The game plan put on by Osborne’s Xarvia Smith — coach of the Nationals — became apparent early. On their first scoring drive, Thompson connected with Kell’s Brendan Langley for a 42-yard gain, and then followed on the next play with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Hillgrove teammate Evan Engram.
“I told (Walton assistant coach Tripp) Allen, as many times as we can, throw the ball to (Langley and Engram),” Smith said. “We made an adjustment with their size. We knew we had the better matchup with anybody on the field.”
Those adjustments made Thompson’s job a lot easier.
“We had the athletes,” he said. “They did all the work, I just threw the ball.”
The 6-foot-3 Engram finished with three catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown gave the Nationals a 6-0 lead, and the second put the game out of reach. In the fourth quarter, Uzee threw the ball high, allowing the Mississippi-bound tight end to use his size and over a defender to reel in the pass.
Engram was pleased with his performance, but he was happiest with the chance to play in a game with some of Cobb County’s premier athletes.
“It’s a blessing to come out here and play with the county’s best,” he said. “There’s also a lot of good guys on the other team.”
After the 6-1 Langley caught Uzee’s 11-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to make the score 13-0, the Americans began to prove Engram correct.
The quarterback tandem of McEachern’s Ty Griffin and South Cobb’s Stephon Masha led the Americans on a 12-play, 83-yard drive. The big play came on a 46-yard pass from Griffin to Lassiter’s Willie Police, and McEachern’s Mike Sherman — playing one last time on his home field — finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 13-7.
A 46-yard field goal by Walton’s Anthony Price increased the Nationals’ lead to 16-7 with 1:18 to play in the half, but that gave Masha just enough time to run a perfect 2-minute drill.
Masha was 3-for-3 on the drive, connecting with South Cobb teammate Chauncey Ingram for 25 yards to the Nationals’ 33-yard line, and then back-to-back passes to Marietta’s Tyree Harris. The first, a 17-yarder into the red zone, and the second, a 16-yard touchdown pass in the back-left corner of the end zone with 9 seconds left, cut the lead to 16-14 at the half.
The Americans dominated the time of the possession in the second half, running 44 plays to the Nationals’ 22, outgained them 166-84 and won the first-down count 13-3, but they couldn’t find a way to put points on the scoreboard.
Two third-quarter drives ended in missed field goals, and another was disrupted when North Cobb’s Eghosa Agbonghae had two sacks in three plays, with the latter causing a fumble and a turnover at the beginning of the fourth.
Late in the game, it looked like the Americans would pull within two points when Masha connected on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Sprayberry’s Myles Wallace, but an illegal-block penalty took the points off the board.
Now faced with first-and-35, the Americans eventually converted another first down, but another penalty and back-to-back sacks by Kell’s Grant Morgan and Michael Valero ended the final threat.
“A couple of penalties and turnovers — those are the things that will get you beat in any game,” said Mount Paran Christian’s Mitch Jordan, coach of the Americans. “(And) they did a great job rushing the passer in the second half.”
Campbell’s Darius Harris led the Nationals in rushing with 30 yards on eight carries. Langley finished with two catches for 53 yards and three carries for 28 yards. Uzee added 98 yards through the air and the two touchdowns.
Masha led the Americans, going 13-of-23 for 155 yards and a touchdown. Harris had five catches for 74 yards and Griffin and Sprayberry’s Corey Cooper each rushed for 53 yards.
Both punters also had big days. Whitefield Academy’s Max Kemether averaged 41.8 yards a punt with a long of 70 for the Americans, while Harrison’s Jimmy Hutchinson averaged 46 yards a kick with a long of 61.