CALHOUN, Ga. — Peach County got its football revenge Friday night, though Calhoun had a big hand in the Trojans' redemptive win in their GHSA Class AAA semifinal at Phil Reeve Stadium.
The Trojans, who lost a highly controversial championship game to the Yellow Jackets by four points last December, used a dominating defense and a myriad of Calhoun mistakes to win 22-7 this time around. The Trojans (12-2) will face Cedar Grove (13-1) in the title game Dec. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb praised the Trojans' defense, which had seven sacks and forced the Jackets into minus-15 rushing yards.
"Their defense was just unreal. We couldn't block them," said Lamb, whose top-ranked team finished with a 13-1 record. "Our defense did a good job and kept us in it, but we just made too many mistakes on offense and on special teams. We had several chances in the first half to score points, and we felt like we should have scored three touchdowns."
The Trojans managed just 196 total yards, but they took advantage of a pair of plays on special teams to score their two offensive touchdowns. The game was scoreless in the first quarter when Jamir Best, part of Peach County's elite defensive line, blocked a Calhoun punt and returned it to the 6. One play later, quarterback Jaydon Gibson scored on a keeper.
The Jackets put together their best drive of the night to answer, going 80 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Gavin Gray connected with Bralin Barton for a 45-yard gain to spark the drive, which ended on Gray's fourth-down 1-yard sneak on the second quarter's initial play.
Brannon Spector, who scored the only touchdown in last year's 10-6 title game on a pick-six, then intercepted Gibson and appeared to have returned it for a touchdown. However, a penalty for a block in the back nullified the return, and the drive went nowhere after four incomplete passes from the Peach County 26.
Later in the quarter, a fumbled snap on a Calhoun punt from the Peach County 40 set the Trojans up at the Calhoun 46. After a personal foul on Barton, Gibson connected with Justin Harris for a 31-yard touchdown and a 13-7 lead.
The Jackets again drove, but they lost running back Zack Fuller on the drive with an apparent concussion. His replacement, Jonkell Tolbert, fumbled on his first run, turning it over at the Peach County 15 to end the half on a sour note.
"If we score on those drives, it would have been a different game," Lamb said. "We had the turnovers, and for some reason we were bad on special teams. We also had some people open but just missed some passes."
Peach County took advantage of a short punt midway through the third quarter to put together its best drive of the night, getting to the 14 after 11 plays and going up 16-7 on Kayden Sharp's 31-yard field goal. Calhoun only got one more first down as Best, Cedric Hillsman, Nigel Manns, Jaqualin McGee and company turned up the heat for the visitors.
"Peach just outplayed us," Lamb said. "This bunch of seniors are very special. I hate it for these guys."
Calhoun was working for the program's fifth state championship and fourth under Lamb, who took over in 1999 and has coached the Jackets to 18 straight region titles. Lamb led the program to state titles in 2011 and 2014 in addition to last year, and he has taken the Jackets to the championship game on five other occasions.
Now the Trojans will go for their fourth state title — they also won in 2005, '06 and '09 — and second under coach Chad Campbell, who this season led his team to its seventh region title in his 12-year tenure. Cedar Grove's lone state title came two years ago — included in the run was a quarterfinal win against Calhoun — and the Saints will be facing Peach County for the first time.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.