Growing up in Tifton, Mays head coach Niketa Battle knows many south Georgians feel less than impressed about high school football in metro Atlanta. So he made sure his team knew that.
Battle’s Raiders struck a blow for football in the big city by shutting out Lee County in the final two periods en route to a 35-22 win at Lakewood Stadium, just a stone’s throw from the lights of downtown Atlanta. Mays (11-1), the Region 5-AAAAAA champions, will now face Region 4 champion Tucker (11-1) in the quarterfinals. The home team will be decided by a coin toss.
“Being from down there I know how people feel about south Georgia football compared to the rest of the state,” Battle said. “I told our team that they are not going to respect you. They are not going to think you can play a full game of disciplined, poised football. So I’m really proud of how our guys responded.”
Early on, Lee County (8-3) showed why it was able survive the gauntlet of arguably the state’s toughest league, Region 1-AAAAAA, which includes Valdosta, Northside-Warner Robins, Coffee County and Houston County. The Trojans took a 15-0 first quarter lead on touchdown runs of 3 and 8 yards by senior Mark Robinson, and led 22-8 at the half.
The Trojans moved the ball effectively in the first two quarters, dominating time of possession and keeping the Raiders’ explosive offense on the sideline. Additionally, Lee County converted three fourth downs in the first half, a sign of Trojan head coach Dean Fabrizio’s confidence in his team.
“We had a bunch of blow assignments in the first half and [Lee County] took advantage of it,” Battle said. “We just had to settle down and do our jobs. I think we got caught up in the hype and emotion of the game. We just had to settle down.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Mays took the second half kickoff and marched 80 yards in eight plays, including a big conversion on fourth-and-13 at the Lee County 37-yard line. Senior quarterback B.J. Phillips hit junior Amir Abdur-Rahman with a 7-yard touchdown pass to narrow the gap to 22-15.
Lee County’s next two possession netted just one first down, but the Trojan defense kept Mays at bay for the rest of the third quarter. But the game turned just before the start of the fourth when Fabrizio decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Trojans’ own 39 yard line. Robinson, running out of the wildcat formation for the fourth play in a row, was stopped a half-yard short and the Raiders took possession.
“I had confidence that we could get a yard there,” Fabrizio said of his decision. “Our defense was starting to wear down a little and we were losing the momentum. I thought we could keep the ball away from their offense and give our defense a little more time to rest.”
The rigors of competing a such a rugged region had taken a bit of a toll on the Trojans, Fabrizio said. Additionally, they were playing without junior safety Otis Reese, already committed to Michigan, who was ejected in last week’s first-round win over Evans.
“I’m not going to use that as an excuse and take anything away from Mays,” Fabrizio said. “They were the better team tonight. My hat is off to their players and coaches. They made more plays than we did. Their quarterback made some big runs and big throws.”
Less than a minute after the Raiders took possession on the Lee County 40-yard line, Phillips capped the short scoring drive with a 16-yard run to tie the score at 22-22 after Chloe Robinson’s extra point conversion kick.
Three plays into the Trojans ensuing drive, Mays senior Joshua Smith intercepted Jase Orndorff’s pass at the Lee County 19-yard line. But the Raiders’ failed to capitalize when Adbur-Rahman, who made several big catches all night, dropped a potential touchdown pass from Phillips on fourth down.
Mays would not be denied, however, as the Raider defense forced a three-and-out and Phillips led his team on a nine-play, 59-yard drive, which he capped with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jamarcus McCoy on a shallow crossing route over the middle. Then the Raider defense put the game away when senior Ferlando Jordan stepped in front of an Orndorff pass on the far sideline and raced 48-yards to push the Mays lead to 35-22 with just 1:17 left to play.