Marietta, which had trailed Hillgrove since midway through the first quarter of their Region 3-AAAAAAA game Friday, scored two touchdowns in the game’s final 1:22 to pull out a 28-17 victory Friday at Northcutt Stadium.
Quarterback Rashun Bass gave Marietta its first lead of the night at 21-17 when he threw a 78-yard touchdown pass to Ramel Keyton with 1:22 to play. Four plays later, the Blue Devils’ Jordan Ford intercepted a pass and returned it 43 yards to clinch the victory.
Marietta (6-1, 2-0), which went 3-7 last season and failed to make the playoffs, is tied with McEachern for first place in the region. Hillgrove (4-3, 1-1) had its four-game winning streak stopped and fell into third place.
“Nobody gives us much chance,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. “I think everybody wrote us off a long time ago, and we just keep coming back. We’ve done some things this year that high school teams don’t normally do. We’ve had two goal-line stands to win games, and we’ve had three 80-yard drives now to win games. We do things that normal high school teams don’t.”
Marietta trailed 17-14 when it took possession at its 17 with 2:19 remaining after forcing Hillgrove to turn the ball over on downs. Three plays moved the ball out to the 30 before an 8-yard sack put it back on the 22. On the next play, Bass threw long to Keyton, who made the catch despite pass interference being called on the defender and then went untouched into the end zone.
Bass was making his fourth start since taking over for Harrison Bailey, who suffered a collarbone injury in the third game of the season. Bass lost his debut, 37-14 against Lassiter, but has since won three consecutive games. Bass was 13-of-21 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Keyton had five catches for 132 yards.
Bailey is rated by Scout as the nation’s No. 2 pro-style passer among sophomores.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Morgan said of Bass. “He’s got a lot of talent. Being Harrison’s backup, he didn’t get a lot of reps all along, so when the unfortunate injury happened, he had to play a game with only a couple of days of practice. It just didn’t work out, but since then he’s been very attentive in practice. He’s helped lead the team. The kids have confidence in him, and we have confidence in him. I think that showed tonight when there was a minute and 20 seconds left and we still went 80 yards to win it. That’s pretty impressive.”
Hillgrove led 17-7 at halftime but was held scoreless the rest of the way. The Hawks moved the ball into Marietta territory on three of their six second-half possessions but were forced to punt once, turned it over on downs and threw an interception.
Marietta closed the gap to 17-14 when Christian Ford scored on a 51-yard run midway through the third quarter, but Hillgrove still had the lead when it took over at its 34 with 8:08 to play in the game. The Hawks moved inside the Marietta 30, mainly behind the running of Trevor Smith, but quarterback Hunter Arters was stopped for an 8-yard gain on fourth-and 10. Although the Hawks burned almost six minutes off the clock, Marietta took possession at its 17 for the game-winning drive.
Smith had 129 yards and a touchdown rushing on 26 carries. Marietta finished with a 345-314 advantage in total offense.
Hillgrove took advantage of a Marietta turnover for the first points of the game. The Hawks recovered a fumbled punt return at the Marietta 23-yard line, and Luis Garcia-Cano kicked a 34-yard field goal four plays later for a 3-0 lead with 6:17 to play in the first quarter.
The Hawks made it 10-0 on their next possession, driving 76 yards in 12 plays, 11 of them on the ground, and scored on a 2-yard run by Smith with 9:19 to play in the half.
A 40-yard return by Marietta’s Christian Ford on the ensuing kickoff set up the Blue Devils’ only first-half score. Marietta went 58 yards in five plays, cutting the lead to 10-7on an 8-yard pass from Bass to Kobe Stewart.
Hillgrove restored the lead to 10 points when Arters hit Jalen Jackson with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 18.7 seconds remaining in the half.
Hillgrove – 3-14-0-0 – 17
Marietta – 0-7-7-14 – 14
H – Luis Garcia-Cano 34 field goal
H – Trevor Smith 2 run (Garcia-Cano kick)
M – Kobe Stewart 8 pass from Rashun Bass (Cooper Kipp kick)
H – Jalen Jackson 9 pass from Hunter Arters (Garcia-Cano kick)
M – Christian Ford 51 run (Kipp kick)
M – Ramel Keyton 78 pass from Bass (Kipp kick)
M – Jordan Ford 43 interception return (Kipp kick)