KENNESAW — Having not missed the playoffs since 2012, Mount Paran Christian has been no stranger to postseason play.
Still, possibly no berth could have been more sweet for the Eagles than the one they earned Friday night with a 33-7 win over Walker at Catherine Steele Sewell Stadium.
Mount Paran (1-6, 1-1 Region 7A) used ball control, stifling defense and the momentum from a few dazzling first-half special team plays to finally earn their first win of the season — and clinch a spot in the state playoffs.
Mount Paran will play at Region 6A champion Fellowship Christian in the first round.
It was a unique feat in a unique year, especially for the Eagles, who had three of their last four games canceled and had not played at home in over a month.
For coach Mitch Jordan, getting a win in decisive fashion against a rival was a boost at just the right time for a team that needed one. But more importantly, he was just happy to see his players in uniform.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to play this one,” said Jordan, who is taking Mount Paran to the postseason for the ninth straight year, said. “We’ve been practicing until gamedays and then losing games (to cancellations), so just getting out there was what matters to us.”
“We have to hand it to our seniors, and we have a great staff that stays focused.”
Sam Griffith-Tesch helped Mount Paran pull away with a 9-yard touchdown to make it 12-0 at halftime, then and two more — including a 26-yarder — in the third quarter.
Griffith-Tesch finished with 106 yards on 21 carries, spelled by 66 yards on nine from Remi Adams.
Mount Paran’s first points came after a long drive stalled inside the Walker 10-yard line, resulting in a Turner Johnson field goal of 22 yards. On Walker’s next play, Trey Jackson intercepted the Wolverines’ Charlie Condon at midfield.
After a stalled drive, Mount Paran pounced on a high snap that led to a punt block by Jordan Mosby. Mosby nearly recovered the ball at the end line for a touchdown, but the official ruled it a safety.
Mitch Lott seemed to have returned the ensuing safety kick for a score, but a blocking foul negated the return. It was the Eagles’ second highlight-reel return, after Adams had a 70-yard scamper called back in the first quarter.
While the plays that did not count caused the biggest roars from the fans happy to be home, it was the run game — which totaled 234 of the Eagles’ 274 total yards — that finished things in the second half.
Nick Oyala scored Mount Paran’s final touchdown from 2 yards out in the fourth.
For Walker (1-9, 0-4), it was sobering finish to a difficult season that saw a head coaching change in the middle. The Wolverines were down to fewer than 30 players, with only 19 dressed, and depth issues surely crept up early and often in the game.
Aaron Dobbins, in his fifth game as head coach after taking over at midseason, held high the character of his players after the game and season ended.
“We had some guys in our program who took the easy way out, but these kids right here were the ones who stuck with it,” Dobbins said. “To be in their shoes, and to not take the path of least resistance, tells me everything I need to know about them.”
The highlight for Walker came from a halftime adjustment.
After gaining just 12 yards in the first half, the Wolverines went from a compact offense to splitting Tate Harrison out wide. Harrison caught a 40-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-26 to make it 19-7 in the third, putting the pressure on the Eagles.
Mount Paran did throw more in the second half, with little success, but Jordan said it was all about knocking off the rust.
“If we want to compete in the playoffs, we will need to be balanced,” he said. “We will clean those things up.”
The Eagles held the Wolverines to just 88 yards. Jett Allen also found running room, with 32 yards on nine carries.