This story was updated at 11:55 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2020, to correct the Chattooga boys' quarterfinal opponent to Banks County and Banks County's second-round result from a 60-58 loss to Butler to a win by the same score.
If history has taught high school basketball fans in Georgia anything, it's that boys' teams from the northwest corner of the Peach State rarely make it past the second round of the GHSA playoffs. That is especially true in the upper classifications, where Atlanta-area powerhouses usually dominate on a yearly basis.
The LaFayette Ramblers heard all about that this week as they prepared for a Class AAAA tournament second-round matchup against McDonough, the program that beat them by 30 in this round four years ago. With a standing-room only crowd in Dan Priest Gym on Thursday night, history was — at least for a year — rewritten as the Ramblers used a late flurry to win 56-51.
Region 6 champion LaFayette (25-2), which defeated Oconee County in the first round, moves on to next week's quarterfinals for a visit from Region 3 champ Cross Creek, which beat Marist 34-32 in the second round.
"It feels amazing. I'm so proud of the boys," said LaFayette coach Hank Peppers, whose team rallied from a four-point deficit in the final quarter. "They were resilient the whole game against a very good team. I almost can't put it into words, but this is one of the biggest reasons I love coaching. Sure, the competition is one, but to see the happiness on my kids' faces is where I get my enjoyment from."
Aidan Hadaway led the Ramblers with 19 points, with Junior Barber adding 16 and DeCameron Porter 14. Hadaway and Porter each also had 12 rebounds, a big part of the team's 38-20 edge on the boards against a team that featured 6-foot-8 post Lay Davis and 6-3 forward Howard Fagan. Hadaway and Porter combined for five blocked shots and altered several more.
"It was very important to show we could play with them inside," Porter said. "Coach always tells us, 'We've got to be the hammer, not the nail.' We did that in the second half."
The game was tied at 40 entering the final quarter, but the Warhawks (17-13) got a pair of Davis layups to go up four and had two possessions to extend the lead. LaFayette's defense, though, came through and kept the game close despite the Ramblers getting only two points in the quarter's first four minutes.
Hadaway tied it on a putback basket, and Barber had the first of several game-changing plays in the final minutes with a strong drive to put LaFayette up two with three minutes left. Porter then followed with a putback of his own.
The lead was still four with just more than a minute to play after Porter hit a one-hander in the lane, but McDonough's Jay Green hit a corner 3-pointer to cut the the lead to one. The Warhawks, though, did not make another basket until the final seconds as the smothering LaFayette defense dominated late.
Barber's final key play sealed the win. McDonough had the ball under the LaFayette basket with 15 seconds left when Barber tipped the in-bounds pass, gathered it in and was fouled. His two free throws pushed the lead to six and started a massive celebration that soon spilled onto the floor.
"It means a lot to win in front of this crowd," Porter said with a smile. "Everybody kept doubting us, but we just went out and did what we always do. It's a great win out here, a great win."
In other GHSA boys' state tournament games, Chattooga rallied from a 32-23 halftime deficit to win 66-60 at Thomasville in Class AA and Christian Heritage lost 52-42 to visiting Trinity Christian in Class A private.
Chattooga's Jatorrian Williams scored 11 consecutive points midway through the final quarter, including a four-point play after being fouled on a 3-pointer, to put the Indians up 12. Chattooga (23-6) will travel in the quarterfinal round to No. 1 seed Banks County, which downed Butler 60-58.
Christian Heritage was down 10 at halftime and never recovered. Evan Lester and Nash Bingham led the Lions (20-5) with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
In GHSA girls' state tournament games, Northwest Whitfield was eliminated by McDonough in Class AAAA, 60-42, and Chattooga lost at Early County, 64-45, in Class AA as Makayla Timpson had 12 points and 17 rebounds for the hosts. The Lady Indians (21-7) were led by Tia Dunaway and Kayleigh Morgan with eight points each.