It was a heck of a ride, but things came to an end a couple of games too soon for Statesboro.
The Blue Devils gave it their best shot, and looked like they would take home another victory, but Chattahoochee rallied to erase a 21-13 fourth quarter deficit and Ammon Lakip’s 27 yard field goal wobbled – just barely – through the uprights to give the Cougars a 22-21 win in the Class AAAA semifinals Friday night at Womack Field.
Chattahoochee advances to take on Starr’s Mill – a 20-19 winner over Tucker in the other semifinal – next Friday at 8 p.m. to decide the state champion.
For the Cougars (14-0) the comeback kept alive a season of dreams while the Devils (11-3) fell just short of reaching their sixth state final in 11 seasons.
“There’s a lot of sentiment – a lot of disappointment in this game,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “But there’s also a lot to take out of it. This has been a great season and I couldn’t be more proud of our players.”
For much of the final quarter, it looked like Statesboro was on its way to the Georgia Dome for next week’s championship game.
The Devils trailed Chattahoochee — which capitalized on three uncharacteristic SHS turnovers — 13-7 at halftime, but grabbed all of the second half momentum.
Aaron Lester (12 carries, 99 yards) broke loose on a 65 yard gallop and Dequan Daniels (27 carries, 180 yards) took back the lead for Statesboro with the second of his three touchdowns on the night.
After recovering a Cougar fumble on its own 2 yard line, Statesboro seemed to take all of the fight out of Chattahoochee as the Devils embarked on an 18-play, 98 yard touchdown drive that spanned over eight minutes of game time and left Chattahoochee trailing 21-13 with just 5:11 to play.
All-State candidate Timmy Byerly took command of his offense and waged a season-saving comeback.
Byerly — who passed for 201 yards and rushed for 134 more — showed exactly why the Cougar offense had been so feared this season. He quickly moved his team down the field and found Hunter Thomas for a 6 yard touchdown
“Both teams were applying pressure all night,” said Pennington. “We pressured them with out power and they pressured us with how quickly they could move the ball and score.
“In the end, we fought hard tooth and nail, but couldn’t quite stop them. When guys with that much talent manage to make plays at the end, you just have to give them credit.”
Statesboro kept Byerly from getting in on the two-point conversion, but the Devils couldn’t move the chains and run out the clock on their ensuing possession.
With less than two minutes remaining and the ball at midfield, the Cougars made good on their final chance.
A holding penalty briefly backed Chattahoochee into its own territory, but Byerly ripped off a 20 yard run to put his team back in business.
Three plays later, Byerly plowed down to the Statesboro 10 and Chattahoochee put its season on the shoulders of Lakip — who had already missed twice on the evening.
Lakip appeared to rush his kick, and the result was a low, knuckling line drive, but the ball stayed just high enough to clear the crossbar and Chattahoochee was vaulted from the brink of elimination to a date at the Georgia Dome.
“It’s really tough to take,” said SHS quarterback Reid Pennington. “Our seniors worked so hard this year, and it’s tough to go out like this, but we still have a good group of guys coming back next year. We’ll get back to work, and give it another shot.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.