Photo by Kyle Chambers/Griffin Daily News
Stockbridge quarterback Trenton Earl gets off a pass just before Griffin defender Johnathan Frost gets to him.
GRIFFIN — Thanks to Stockbridge’s Andrus Guillen, there would be no Bear Magic Friday night.
The last two times Griffin fell behind against region teams — by nine points against Dutchtown at halftime and by an even dozen to Jonesboro in the fourth quarter — the Bears found ways to come back and win.
But with Guillen’s 27-yard field goal as time expired, the Tigers broke Griffin’s Henry County hex, beating the second-ranked Bears 17-14 and becoming the first Henry County team to beat Griffin in 28 tries.
It was a monumental achievement for coach Kevin Whitley in his fourth year building the Tigers program. But Whitley made it clear that he’s looking for more.
“The problem with being the first team to beat Griffin is they don’t give out championship rings for that,” Whitley said. “We’ve always been saying in order to take this program to the next level, we’ve got to beat top-10 teams. And we did that tonight.”
Tigers quarterback Trenton Earl was huge in the upset. The Stockbridge senior’s 269 yards of offense almost singlehandedly outgained Griffin.
In just the second half, Earl gashed the Bears with 114 rushing yards — most of them coming on clutch option keepers from Whitley’s wing-T formation.
But perhaps no play was bigger than the 55-yard Earl scamper that put Stockbridge deep into Griffin territory with 2:27 left in the game. Guillen’s game-winning kick came five plays later.
Earl, who juked several Griffin defenders before breaking free to the left sideline, deflected all the credit to his teammates in the trenches.
“I give all the credit to our offensive line tonight,” Earl said. “Those guys really blocked their butts off all game long tonight.”
It seemed that Earl was destined to have a big night from the start.
The Tigers struck on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Earl took a three-step drop and fired a bullet over the middle to Maetron Thomas, who shook off two defenders and outran the rest on the way to a 65-yard touchdown. With that, Stockbridge took a 7-0, first-quarter lead with just 17 seconds gone from the clock.
After a promising first drive for Griffin stalled at its 49-yard line, Stockbridge began a 15-play drive from its own 10. It came up empty, however, when Guillen pushed a 29-yard field-goal try wide left.
However, Griffin couldn’t capitalize as the Stockbridge defense stiffened and forced the Bears to a three-and-out.
This time, it took Stockbridge just two plays before finding the end zone again. Fullback Malik Bryan burst through the middle of Griffin’s defense and rumbled for a 25-yard touchdown. The 14-0 deficit was Griffin’s largest of this season.
Griffin answered with a 12-play, 77-yard drive, capped by Malik Miller’s 2-yard score.
The score remained 14-6 after Griffin stopped Stockbridge on a first-and-goal from the Bears’ 1-yard line as time expired in the first half.
Both teams traded defensive punches in the third quarter, until Miller had his second 2-yard touchdown run late in the third. That made it 14-12, Stockbridge.
Griffin got a two-point conversion when quarterback Jaquez Parks option-pitched to backup quarterback Anforné Stroud who then threw it to Darquavious Mangham in the back of the end zone. Though Griffin’s trickery knotted the score at 14 with 3:30 left in the third quarter, Whitley was proud of how his defense held Griffin in check.
“We knew that third quarter was their quarter,” Whitley said. “They’ve been blowing people out in the third quarter all season long. In some of our other games, our defense would slip up, but tonight was not like in the past. We bowed up and stopped them throughout.”
No second-half stop was bigger than defensive back Clifford Lowe’s pass deflection on a fourth-quarter pass from Parks in the red zone. If Lowe hadn’t broken up the pass, Bears receiver Christian Owens would’ve scored easily.
Instead, the Bears turned it over on downs and Earl and company began their seven-play, 75-yard drive to victory.
Guillen’s 27-yard kick came after he missed two 29 yarders — including one earlier in the fourth quarter.
But the Tigers didn’t lose hope in their kicker or themselves as a team.
“To know you can come out and win against all odds, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Earl said. “When no one wants you to win and you do it …”
Earl didn’t finish his sentence. All the finishing was done by a Tigers defense restricting a Griffin offense that averaged almost 40 points a game to just 273 total yards and 14 points — by far the Bears’ lowest output of the season. Meanwhile, the Tigers rolled up 389 yards of offense. If not for the missed field goals and a touchdown called back for a penalty, the end-of-the-game drama would have been unnecessary.
It was a huge turnaround from the 23-0 season opening shutout at the hands of M.L. King.
“That game taught us a lot,” Whitley said. “The speed and the strength of those athletes prepared us to go out here and do what we did tonight.”
For Earl, it wasn’t just a breakout game. It was his signature performance — one that Whitley said further cemented his place as the pulse of this Stockbridge team.
“He was great tonight,” Whitley said. “He’s our leader, no question. We now know it was a blessing in disguise for him to have to come in like he did last year toward the end of the season. Because of that, he came into this year, he knew he could do this and his team knew he could do this.”
Now the arduous task for the Tigers (4-1) is to see if they can do it again next week when they travel to face another high-powered offense in 0-5 Eagle’s Landing.
“We need to be confident, but we need to stay humble,” Whitley said. “We can’t win this one and then go out next week and lose one that we’re not supposed to lose.”
Griffin, now 4-1, will come to Tara Stadium in Jonesboro next Friday to square off against 4-1 Riverdale, which beat Eagle’s Landing 52-36.