By Doug Gorman
They battled it out until late in the fourth quarter on a cold and dreary Friday night.
It was foggy, wet and down right miserable, a scene more suited for a scary Stephen King novel, but in reality, it was a Class A quarterfinal football game played on a gridiron tucked away in the small South Georgia community of Homerville between public school Clinch County and private school ELCA in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough.
With a 27-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter, by all accounts ELCA should have won the contest.
But Clinch County found away to rally with some late-game heroics and ended what was the best season in school history for the Chargers (12-1) with a 34-27 come-from-behind win.
Clinch County went on to capture the Class A state title, beating Wilkinson County in the semifinals and then Savannah Christian last Saturday at the Georgia Dome to complete a remarkable 15-0 run.
The ELCA-Clinch County storyline could have ended once the clock hit all zeroes and the Chargers boarded the bus for the long, disappointing trip back home just one day after Thanksgiving, but it didn't.
The two programs built up a mutal friendship, a bond of respect seldom seen by highly competitve squads in this day and age, so when Clinch County worked its way to its perfect record and trip last week to the Georgia Dome, ELCA became the Panthers' biggest collection of cheerleaders and boosters for the final two games of the season.
When Clinch County made the trek down Interstate 75 last week to play in the state title game, the Chargers rolled out the red carpet, hosting the Panthers for a meal and a time of fellowship.
Tuesday morning, Clinch County returned the favor as long-time assistant coach Mitch Ramsey made the nearly four hour drive from Homerville to McDonough to give ELCA football coach Jonathan Gess and athletic director Scott Queen a game ball signed by all the members of this year's state championship team.
Gess was touched by Clinch County's show of friendship.
"One thing we strive do to, and it showed after that game, we need to bring high school sports back where it belongs. It seems where it has gotten all about winning and hating each other.
"We wanted to change that and show that it is about Jesus Christ. We thought the best way we could do that was to reach out to these guys, love them and genuinely root for them and cheer them on and want the best for them. We think God gave us this game for ministry, not for self-glorification. We don't want to teach that. We want to show we are all brothers in Christ."
Ramsey has been around the game for more than four decades and he too says both teams came away with tremendous respect for each other.
"It was a great game," he said. "They are a terrific football team, and I just told their coaches, there's no way I want to face them on a dry field."
Ramsey said he thought the best two teams in Class A were Clinch and ELCA even though the tournament pairing had them matched up in the quarterfinals.
Now ELCA has some fans in the southern part of the state.
"I can tell you what, whatever championships ELCA is playing in, as long as its not against us, I am going to be cheering for them," Ramsey said.
The feeling might just be mutual.