ATLANTA — Special teams helped pave the way to the Harrison football team’s first state title.
The Hoyas blocked two field goals, with the second giving them the momentum they needed to finish strong the second half strong and beat Region 6AAAAAA rival Allatoona 20-7 on Friday for the Class AAAAAA championship at Georgia State Stadium.
Harrison, which finished the year with a perfect 15-0 record, came through in its second state finals appearance after losing to Parkview in the 2000 Class AAAAA title game.
“I’m excited for those kids over there,” said Matt Dickmann, who reached the peak in his seventh season as Harrison’s coach. “They have paid the price. They did everything that we asked them to do. That’s why (our motto) was, ‘Finish the Mission,’ because, last year, we thought we fell short. It’s been a great year.”
Allatoona (11-3-1) started the second half on defense and gained momentum by getting a turnover when Fisher Paulsen forced a fumble and Michael Austin made the recovery.
The Buccaneers moved the ball into field goal position with a chance to tie the game at 10. However, Jude Kelley, one of the state’s premier kickers, attempted a 34-yard field goal that was blocked by a herd of Hoyas on what appeared to be a low snap.
That was the fuel Harrison needed to score 10 unanswered points to pull away in what had unofficially been deemed the “Battle of Burnt Hickory,” between the two county rivals and neighbors separated by only about 8 miles.
The Hoyas increased their lead to 13-7 on their next drive when Christian Lowery booted his own 40-yard field goal, his second of such distance in the game.
Two plays into Allatoona’s next drive, Harrison’s Brandon Carter came through with an interception and was 2 yards away from reaching the end zone. The Hoyas’ offense then took care of it for him, with quarterback Gavin Hall sneaking in on the first play.
“During halftime, all the coaches got together with the players,” Harrison receiver Jay Ziglor said. “We needed to get turnovers. We needed to be better with our blocking and we needed to be more relentless on defense as well. We executed in everything that we did, and I’m just proud.”
Harrison’s defense took over from there, not allowing Allatoona to cross the 50-yard line. The Buccaneers finished the game with only 206 yards of total offense, and much of that came from running back Alex Wilson, who had 120 yards on 31 carries.
The Hoyas’ offense chewed much of the fourth-quarter clock, with Marcus Bleazard getting a clutch first down on a 7-yard run with just over 3 minutes left to play.
Early in the second quarter, Allatoona attempted a 42-yard field goal with a chance to tie it at 3-all, but Micaiah Bell blocked the kick, putting Harrison on the Buccaneers’ 49-yard line.
“Those two (blocked field goals) changed everything,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “Then, we have the turnover that was basically a pick-six, so, all of a sudden, the game turns on you and you can’t come back.”
After Bell’s block, Harrison took a 10-0 lead on the next play when Hall went deep to Ziglor for a 49-yard score.
Hall finished the game 6-of-10 for 117 yards, adding 23 yards and his touchdown on the ground. Ziglor caught two passes for 88 yards.
Allatoona responded with a touchdown of its own on an 11-play drive that took nearly 4 minutes off the clock. The Buccaneers cut it to 10-7 when Dante Marshall hit Asante Das on an 18-yard fade route.
Das finished with three catches for 39 yards.
Allatoona’s defense shut Harrison down on the next two first-half drives that included Brett Blomquist getting his eighth interception of the season.
The Hoyas finished with 205 total yards of offense.