Even after Mays’ 31-28 win over Alexander, Friday night at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta, the Class AAAAAA-Region 5 champion has still not been decided.
But one thing is crystal clear. Both teams served notice that each has the resiliency to make a long run through the playoffs.
No. 4 Mays (8-1, 7-0) overcame missed tackles and blown coverages on defense, and fumbles and dropped passes on offense to hold off No. 5 Alexander (8-1, 6-1). The Cougars overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half and held a 28-24 lead over Mays midway through the third quarter.
All night, Alexander had made the Raiders pay for their big mistakes. The Cougars took advantage of two busted coverages for two big touchdown passes by Mason Wood to running back Daetrich Harrington –69 yards and one for 59 yards that gave Alexander its 28-24 lead with a little over five minutes left in the third quarter.
But that’s when Mays made the Cougars pay for one of their mistakes. On the Raiders’ ensuing drive after the Alexander touchdown, they drove inside the Cougars’ 20-yard line. But a Cougar defender stripped junior running back Armis Stokes, who was exceptional most of the night, at the Alexander 14-yard line and the Cougars took over possession.
n third down, Wood was picked off by senior Ferlando Jordan, who returned the ball to the Cougars’ 3-yard line. After two running place netted minus-2 yards, Mays senior BJ Phillips found junior Amir Abdur-Rahman in the front of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the Raiders a 31-28 lead after Chloe Robinson’s point after kick. The junior, who was recruited off of the girls’ soccer team at Mays, was perfect on PATs for the night and her 26-yard field goal in the second quarter proved to be the difference at the end.
But Alexander wouldn’t go away quietly. With a little more than a minute left in regulation, Mays faced a fourth-and-six from the Alexander 38-yard line. Raider head coach Maliki Battle left his offense on the field and called a play that called for Phillips to attempt to draw the Cougars offside, and then either run a play or call time out to punt. Phillips went for the jugular, lofting a pass down the far seam to Maleak Bryant – who already had a 51-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. But Bryant couldn’t make the grab and Alexander took over on its 38-yard line with :54 seconds left.
The Cougars moved to the Mays 34-yard line, but Wood’s pass on second down was picked off in the end zone by senior AJ Cayetano with :24 seconds remaining, to essentially end the game.
“The call came from us and we trust him to make the best decision,” Battle said of Phillips. “Anything can happen in a football game. If we catch that ball it’s a touchdown. But this team just keeps fighting through adversity. We just keep working and hope for a good outcome.”
The Raiders must defeat Northgate next week in order to clinch the program’s first region championship since 2003. As for Alexander, head coach Matthew Combs said he and his team will do what it has done all season.
“Next week, we’ll be 0-0. That’s how we have approached this season. Whether we won or lost this game, we would have still started next week 0-0,” said Combs, now in his seventh season at Alexander.
After the first three years of his tenure produced a total of just nine wins, the Cougars are 32-11 since 2013, which includes a trip to the state quarterfinals. In the 30 years of the Alexander program, the Cougars had won eight or more games just six times. Under Combs, they have now done it four consecutive years.
“We have good kids who work hard. That’s it,” Combs said of his program. “We figure out what we have in January and get to work. But this isn’t some overnight thing. We’re past that talk of people wondering about Alexander. We expect to win. Maybe certain media are just now starting to pay attention to that.”
Alexander 7 7 14 0 28
Mays 7 10 14 0 31
A – Steven Winston 25 pass from Mason Wood (Evan Nabors kick)
M – AJ Cayetano 7 run (Chloe Robinson kick)
M – Robinson 26 fg
M – Maleak Bryant 51 pass from BJ Phillips (Robinson kick)
A – Antonio Grier Jr.23 pass from Wood (Nabors kick)
A – Daetrich Harrington 69 pass from Wood (Nabor kick)
M – Jamarcus McCoy 11 pass from Phillips (Robinson kick)
A – Harrington 59 pass from Wood (Nabor kick)
M – Amir Abdur-Rahman 5 pass from Phillips (Robinson kick)