MARIETTA — Marietta had to wait until the final week of the regular season to make it official, but the Blue Devils clinched the final playoff berth with a 36-24 win over Walton on Friday night at Northcutt Stadium.
The win, coupled with Harrison’s 35-0 victory over Hillgrove, locked Marietta (3-7, 2-3 Region 3AAAAAAA) into the No. 4 seed.
The Blue Devils will open the state playoffs by traveling to Region 2AAAAAAA champion East Coweta next week
“We are starting to play our best football now. The kids have been working real hard, and they deserve it,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. “I don’t know who we play, but we are just happy to be there and see what we can do.”
Marietta took charge early on a 14-yard pass from Tyler Hughes to Milon Jones for the opening points of the game, and a 22-yard field goal from Ben Parrot led to a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A 30-yard touchdown pass from Hughes to Christian Mullis pushed the lead to 16-0, and Hughes added a 32-yard run for a 22-0 lead before Walton got on the board with a 50-yard field goal from Conor Cummins as time expired on the first half.
“It has just been one of those years where nothing has gone our way,” said Morgan, whose team battled through an almost total rebuild from its 2019 state championship team. “We just felt like we have all these young guys who are finally starting to get it. We just told them to play their best football and show us what’s in your heart, and now we are going to the playoffs.”
Hughes was 17-for 23 for 301 yards and three touchdowns. He added 123 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries to lead the Blue Devils’ offense.
“(Hughes) had a great game. He had the one interception or we could have put the game out of reach, but he had a great game,” Morgan said. “He hit some good passes and he ran when he had to. It was pretty much the consistent performance he has been giving us the whole year.”
Zuri Johnson led Marietta with 104 yards on three catches, including a 63-yard touchdown. Daniel Martin had five catches for 63 yards.
Walton (5-5, 3-2) attempted to mount a comeback in the second half with three touchdowns of its own, but Marietta had an answer for every one, except the one that came with no time left in the game.
Walton, which was already locked into the No. 2 seed, will host the winner of Saturday afternoon’s McEachern-Pebblebrook game.
Zak Rozsman went 16-for-26 for 308 yards, with a 5-yard touchdown strike to Stone McKnight in the third quarter and a 24-yard touchdown to Nate Lyons at the end of the game.
Kenny Djaha rushed in from 17 yards out on a draw play in the fourth quarter.
Morgan is ready to see what his team can do in the playoffs this time around.
“We have all the playoff experience in the world. These guys have been on and played in a lot of playoff games,” Morgan said. “It is a new season. Playoff football is totally different than regular-season football. I like the fact that our kids are ready, and they know what it is about. The whole season is behind us now. It does not matter if we are 10-0 or 3-7. We are going to the playoffs, and we are the same as everybody else.”