Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley spent all Friday leading up the Tigers' game worried. Three of his players, all seniors, were late to a meeting, so they did not start. Another got in trouble in class.
Before a game that would decide whether the Tigers ended a 27-year playoff drought, Whitley wondered if his team was conspiring to spoil history.
"I've been mad all day," Whitley said. "It seems like everytime we're going to get over the hump, we find a way to get in our own way."
Yet, it was clear from the beginning of Stockbridge's 49-0 victory over Jackson that the Tigers were on a mission. Stockbridge scored on eight of nine possessions, rushed for over 300 yards and clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 1983.
The win was the most lopsided victory since a 67-0 victory over Loganville on Sept. 9, 1977, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
But the margin of victory was irrelevent for the Tigers (6-3, 5-2 Region 4-AAA). With its regular season finale next week against No. 2-ranked Sandy Creek, the Tigers needed a win against Jackson to assure their place in the playoffs.
"It's a great feeling," Stockbridge senior Marcellas Pope said. "After 27 years. I've been waiting for this since my ninth-grade year."
From its first possession, Stockbridge's triple-option offense dictated the rhythm of the game. A 10-yard run Deon Nowell. A 13-yard run Jayshun Allen. A 10-yard catch Pope. At Jackson's 27-yard line, Tigers quarterback Leon Prunty took an option keeper into the endzone to put the Tigers up 7-0.
Stockbridge recovered a fumble Jackson wide receiver Dee Williams on the Red Devils ensuing possession, but a dropped pass and two penalties spoiled the only Tigers possession that didn't end in a touchdown.
Curtis Lindsey had a 2-yard touchdown run on Stockbridge's next possession. The Tigers went up 21-0 on a 4-yard run Pope on their next possession.
halftime, Stockbridge had out-gained Jackson on offense, 205-70.
"We've been talking all year about trying to jump out early," Whitley said.
Tigers players declared the game their most complete performance this season.
Ten different players had carries, led Pope (10 carries, 88 yards, two touchdowns), Lindsey (nine carries, 64 yards, one touchdown) and Prunty (nine carries, 59 yards, two touchdowns). Stockbridge had 16 first downs. Freshman defensive back Javon Brandon intercepted two passes and brought one back 85 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Jackson (4-5, 3-4) had 172 yards of offense, but the Tigers forced three turnovers. Jackson running back De'Eric Bell rushed for 120 yards on 15 carries, but most of that came on the Red Devils possession.
"This has been our best game," Pope said. "We had no turnovers. Our defense played assignment football. This was our best game of the year."
The feeling after the game was even better.
"Stockbridge has never felt like this. It's been 27 years," Whitley said. "Some of our parents haven't seen Stockbridge in a playoff game. So that's special and we're just glad to be a part of it."