By Derrick Mahone
Homerville -- As his players slowly made their way back to the locker room following an emotional postgame talk and brief senior ceremony, Eagle's Landing Christian coach Jonathan Gess remained upbeat despite his team's 34-27 loss to top-ranked Clinch County Friday in the Class A quarterfinals.
Gess and his Clinch County counterparter Coach Jim Dickerson acknowledge that both teams played a classic high school football playoff game on a rain-soaked field on a windy Friday night in South Georgia.
"It was a great game" Gess said. "I thought it would be a battle back and forth like it was. However had the ball last would probably win."
And it almost happened.
An interception by Clinch County defensive back Dalton Bennett with 1:15 remaining in the game sealed the win for the Cougars, who improved to 13-0 as they head to the semifinals next weekend.
Clinch County running back Anthony McNeil scored his second fourth-quarter touchdown to give the Cougars the lead, and Callan Windham two-point conversion pass closed the scoring.
After taking a 27-20 heading into the fourth quarter, ELCA was unable to move the ball to control the clock.
The Cougars scored twice in the final four minutes of the contest.
McNeil scored on a 21-yard run with 4:33 remaining as the Cougars trailed 27-26. After ELCA was called for an offside penalty, Clinch decided to go for a two-point conversion, but the run by quarterback Trey Dorsey was stopped short.
The Chargers, who finished the season at 12-1, got the ball back after the score, but was unable to move the ball. Three straight plays netted a minus 20 yards for ELCA, which had to punt the ball.
A short punt give Clinch the ball at ELCA's 40-yard line with 2:38 remaining. McNeil capped a four-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that proved to be the game-winner with 1:24 remaining.
"We had a sense of urgency," Dickerson said. "We got guys that never give up on give in. We had some momentum, and they had a bad punt. That was about the only mistake they made the whole evening."
ELCA finished with 373 yards of offense, including 320 on the ground. Sophomore Keyante Green had 209 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He had scoring runs of 5, 29 and 1 yards. John Tatum finished with 118 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm not disappointed in our kids," Gess said. "I love them. They played hard all year long."
Said Dickerson: "They were everything and more that we saw on film. That No. 1 (Green) is great a running back. He is the best running back that I've faced in 25 years."
ELCA moved the ball in the first half as it amassed 229 yards of offense, all on the ground.
However, the Chargers could only punch it in the end zone once in the first half when Green scored on a 5-yard run on the game's opening drive. It only took ELCA five plays to go 50 yards for the opening score for a 7-0 lead with 10:19 remaining.
The Chargers trailed 13-7 at the intermission, but scored three times in the third quarter to take a 27-20 lead. Two of ELCA touchdowns came after fumble recoveries.
However, the fourth quarter was a different story as the Chargers punted twice and its last drive ended with an interception, it only turnover on the night.
"It just wasn't meant for us tonight," ELCA senior running back Alex Williams said. "The Lord has a plan for everything. It is a disappointing loss, but we have to accept the Lord's will."