When it counted most, Jay Poag put his football faith in the hands of Christian Thomas — and it resulted in history for the Christian Heritage Lions.
Thomas, after a stellar first half while pacing the Lions to a 21-0 lead over visiting North Cobb Christian on Friday night, struggled in the second half. However, his third-down completion while clinging to a one-possession lead led to a clinching touchdown drive as Christian Heritage earned its first GHSA region championship with a 28-13 win in Dalton.
"That was as good a half of football as we've had in a long time," said Poag, whose Region 7 champs are 9-1 and will host King's Ridge Christian in next week's opening round of the Class A private school playoffs. "Defensively, we just swarmed them, and offensively Christian made some great throws.
"Momentum got away from us in the third quarter, but we settled back down in the fourth."
Poag's experienced team, which finished one win from region titles in two consecutive seasons, nearly knocked the Eagles out in the first half, scoring on three consecutive possessions and forcing seven punts. Thomas was 6-of-8 passing for 110 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, connecting with Evan Lester for a 34-yard score in addition to 23-yard touchdown passes to Gage Leonard and Solomon Locke.
Equally as impressive was the Lions' defense, which held an opponent averaging more than 30 points and more than 300 rushing yards per game to 36 total yards in the first half. The Eagles were dealt a blow when 1,000-yard season rusher Caleb Cannon injured a leg late in the first half and did not return.
Despite that loss, though, they put together a long drive on their first possession of the second half, with quarterback Walker Ormsby scoring from a yard out to cut the lead to 14. The Lions marched to the Eagles' 38 before Thomas threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted at the 13. Three plays later, Ormsby hit Isiah Williams on a short swing pass that the speedy receiver took 80 yards for a touchdown.
The PAT was blocked, leaving the lead at eight but causing some concern on the Christian Heritage sideline.
"That blocked point after was big, and I think it righted the ship some," Poag said. "And Christian, who is just a winner, made two big plays at the end."
After an exchange of punts, the Lions faced third-and-9 from their 42 when Thomas lofted a perfect fade pass to Tucker Jordan that netted 23 yards and a first down — his only completion of the second half. Thomas then scrambled for 24 yards on another third down, setting up Leonard's game-sealing 7-yard touchdown run.
Northwest Whitfield 28, Pickens 23: The Bruins (7-2, 2-2 Region 7-AAAA) earned the region's No. 2 playoff seed as Owen Brooker passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns and Adrian Reyes rushed for 166 yards and two scores. Pickens scored to make it 28-23 late and recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Matt Redmond sealed the Northwest win with an interception. Redmond and Ray Morrison each had 95 receiving yards.
Gordon Lee 50, Trion 13: The Trojans finished the regular season 9-1 as Cade Peterson rushed for touchdowns, while Brody Cobb, Nate Dunfee and Jacob Neal added scoring runs as Gordon Lee totaled 397 yards on the ground. Rob Brown had 92 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs (3-7), giving him 1,200 yards for the season.
Rockmart 35, Ringgold 12: The visiting Yellow Jackets (8-1, 7-0 Region 6-AAA) completed a perfect region season. The Tigers, after going winless a year ago, end their season 5-5, 4-4 in league play.
Sonoraville 33, Coahulla Creek 12: The Phoenix, after losing their first five Region 6-AAA games, ended the season with three consecutive wins to finish 5-5 overall. Brady Lackey passed for one touchdown and ran for another, while Jaxson Pate caught a 67-yard touchdown pass and threw a scoring pass to Brant Brown. Cade Kinnamon threw two touchdown passes for the Colts (2-8, 1-7).
East Paulding 14, Dalton 7: The Catamounts (2-7, 1-6 Region 5-AAAAAA) saw their bid to tie the game end inside the 10-yard line in the final minute. Ashton Blackwell hooked up with Luke Blanchard on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-all at halftime, but Justin Williams scored on a 5-yard run to give East Paulding (5-5, 2-5) the lead.
Fannin County 55, Dade County 7: The Rebels rolled to finish the regular season 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Region 7-AA. The Wolverines' McKinley Everett passed for a touchdown and finished the season with more than 2,000 passing yards, a school record for Dade.