Maligned for much of the season, the Adairsville defense corralled Region 5-AAA’s No. 2 offense when the Tigers needed it the most, helping the hosts prevail over Gordon Central, 38-35. As a result, Adairsville needs just a win next week at Coahulla Creek to host a first-round Georgia High School Association playoff game.
“We really want to host a playoff game at our high school,” Tigers coach Jim Kremer acknowledged, “and we got an opportunity to do that now, so we have that in control … our own destiny.”
A stretch of the third quarter put those hopes in serious doubt.
After Adairsville took its first lead of the game on a 1-yard run by Marcus Childers, the Tigers squandered a chance to make it a two-possession game when Warriors defensive end D.J. Prather jumped up to tip and intercept Childers’s pass at the Adairsville 6-yard line.
Prather — all 6 foot 4 and 235 pounds of him — then returned the turnover for a touchdown to give Gordon Central a 28-24 lead with 6:30 to play in the third.
The Tigers imploded briefly following the game’s first turnover, compounding their problems with turnovers on two out of the team’s next three possessions.
Each time, however, the Adairsville defense kept the Warriors — which came in averaging 39 points per game — out of the end zone.
Kremer credited his defensive coaching staff for instilling unwavering belief in their players.
“We’ve just been sitting there trying to sell to our kids that the stuff that we’re doing is the right thing and to just keep believing, just keep believing,” he said.
After Gordon Central regained the lead, Tigers return man Hiram Velez fumbled the kickoff on one of his team’s third-quarter possessions, Adairsville turned it over on downs at its 45 and a bobbled exchange between Childers and slot back Kyle Adams gave the Warriors the ball 18 yards from the end zone.
Despite great field position, Gordon Central’s offense put up a goose egg in the third as, respectively, Tigers freshman linebacker Tyler Reed sacked elusive Warrior QB M.J. Reynolds for a turnover on downs; Adairsville forced a punt a from its 35; and Alex Hernandez missed a 36-yard field goal.
With Gordon Central unable to deliver the knockout blow, Childers showed his opponent how its done, opening the fourth quarter with a 39-yard run to the Warrior 24, a play that featured the 6-foot-1, 190-pound QB lowering his shoulder to run over Trenton Smith 8 yards into the carry.
Childers toted the ball twice more on the drive, including his second 1-yard touchdown run of the night, which gave the Tigers a 31-28 lead with 10:40 remaining in the game.
With Gordon Central appearing incapable of slowing Adairsville’s running attack, the coaching staff continue to dial up plays for Childers and his cohorts, which included Adams and running back Tristin Smith. The Tigers scored on a nine-play drive, all runs, as they went 78 yards, with Childers punctuating the drive with a 34-yard score up the middle after faking the handoff on a read-option play.
Ahead 38-28 as the clock showed 4:31 to play, Adairsville fans did not feel too good for long. Just 17 seconds following Childers’s third TD run of the night, the Warriors’ Reynolds spotted and connected with wide receiver Tyshaun Clemmons in the middle of the field near the Gordon Central 48. Clemmons went from midfield to the end zone, going up the right sideline for an 80-yard score.
The Tigers, however, picked up four first downs to run out the clock on their final drive, which began with a 33-yard completion to Marquel Lane on a well-executed fade pattern — which Childers threw from the shadow of his own end zone.
“It was total team effort,” Kremer said after the win. “We just seemed to go through [one of] those moments where we just kind of [seemed to] self-destruct, but our defense went out there and really contained … a very, very explosive offense from Gordon Central. We found a way to contain the quarterback and keep him inside the pocket, and then we spied him some. It was just a great total team effort, one of the best I’ve been around in a long time.”
The Warriors jumped ahead 7-0 on Reynolds’s 19-yard TD run and, after Adairsville’s Dakota Hines made a 37-yard field goal, Gordon Central scored again, on Devonte Jenkin’s 1-yard run, to lead 14-3 with 11:39 left in the half.
At that point, the Tigers embarked on a monumental drive that kept the game from slipping away. They drove 70 yards in 11 plays, with Smith plunging in from 5 yards out to trim the host’s deficit to 14-10.
Reynolds’s 38-yard strike to Bryan Brookshire in the back of the end zone pushed the Warriors’ lead back to 11, but Adairsville responded with an eight-play, 62-yard drive. Smith again scored for the Tigers — from 1 yard out — and his team entered the half trailing 21-17.
Looking to solidify its playoff positioning, Adairsville (6-3, 4-2) heads to Whitfield County Friday for an all-important game with the upstart Colts (2-7, 1-5).
Though the Tigers appeared to lock up a playoff spot with the win against Gordon Central, Kremer said, “If we got upset by Coahulla Creek, I’d have to a look at that [region standings].”
For now, Adairsville sits in second place in the region with the tiebreaker advantage over the Warriors and Ringgold, who also have 4-2 region records.