MILTON — It all started well for Walton in Friday’s Class AAAAAAA state semifinal at Milton.
That was until Milton’s Jordan McDonald started to find running room, and once he got going, so did the rest of the Eagles.
Walton had no answer for Milton’s onslaught after taking an early 10-point lead, as the Eagles scored 38 unanswered points to seize control and win 52-17.
Milton (13-1), whose only loss this season came Aug. 27 at North Cobb, will play Collins Hill for the state championship next Saturday at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.
McDonald accounted for 150 yards on 15 carries, with 111 yards coming in the second half. The Central Florida commit also reached the end zone four times, with his longest run an 81-yarder that put the Eagles ahead 24-10 about 4 minutes into the second half.
Walton (10-3) had been stuffing McDonald early for most of the first half before the Milton front line started creating lanes.
The Raiders came in having overachieved in the postseason as the No. 3 seed, sweeping through the first three rounds at Colquitt County, Archer and Brookwood, and Friday’s game started in Walton’s favor when the Raiders held Milton to a pair of three-and outs on the first two drives.
Quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski, who threw for a combined 540 yards against Archer and Brookwood, started out hot, completing passes under pressure.
However, the sophomore was not as sharp in the second half as Milton continued to chase him out of the pocket. He completed 22 of 36 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
A blocked punt on Milton’s opening drive of the game gave the Raiders new life, and they took advantage when Hecklinski threw to Nate Lyons for a 3-yard touchdown.
When Milton made it to Walton’s side of the field for the first time late in the first quarter, Will Jordan intercepted a Farrell pass at the 2-yard line.
Walton then had the ball for nearly 9 minutes and marched down to the Milton 1. However, after a false start penalty knocked the Raiders back to the 6, Hecklinski threw into the end zone twice and fell short before Walton settled for a Lucien Michelin field goal.
Milton then started finding its spark when Wyatt Nave returned a kickoff 89 yards to the 5, though the Eagles also had to settle for a short field goal. On Milton’s next drive, it tied the game at 10-all when McDonald ran through a swarm of Walton defenders for a 13-yard touchdown.
It turns out McDonald was getting warmed up.
The momentum changed on the ensuing drive when Walton attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-1 at its own 23 and came up short. Milton capitalized when McDonald barreled his way through for a 2-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left in the half to give the Eagles their first lead at 17-10.
Walton’s last shot at making it a game came midway through the third quarter when the Raiders drove the ball to the Milton 12-yard line. Sutton Smith carried the ball to the 6-yard line before losing a fumble was recovered by Milton’s Zyere Horton.
After struggling for much of the first half, Milton quarterback Devin Ferrell engineered a 94-yard drive, highlighted by a 36-yard run and a 30-yard pass before McDonald scrambled 5 yards into the end zone to put the Eagles ahead 31-10.
Following a Walton three-and-out, Milton added to its lead when Farrell found Brooks Bortle for a 13-yard touchdown.
Walton did not score again until early in the fourth quarter, when Hecklinski found Mustafa Hefner for a 13-yard touchdown, but the game was already out of reach at that point.