For the past two weeks, Peach County coach Chad Campbell has been preaching that the Trojans weren’t just a one-man show all season. Yes, highly-touted wide receiver Kearis Jackson was on the sidelines for the second consecutive week after dislocating his wrist in a second-round win over Pierce County, but the Trojans were more than prepared to make a state title run in his stead.
Campbell was right.
Peach County rallied behind quarterback Antonio Gilbert, who completed 28 passes for seven different receivers, for a 28-23 win on Friday at Greater Atlanta Christian in the Class AAA semifinals. The victory avenged a loss to the Spartans in last year’s semifinals and put Peach County in the state championship game for the first time since 2011. The Trojans haven’t won a state championship since 2009. They will face Calhoun at 1 p.m. Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“This has been our goal since spring,” Campbell said of the opportunity to get back to the state title game. “That’s what it’s all about. Our kids have been resilient and given us a chance to do something special.”
At points, it may have seemed like a pipe dream, when considering the injuries the team has faced. But running back Trey Woolfolk put the team on his back with a big performance in the quarterfinals last week, and this week it was Gilbert, whose final tally was 28-for-37 for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
Gilbert was locked in from the start, completing eight of his first 10 passes on two scoring drives that put the Trojans up 10-7 after the first quarter. The second drive ended in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Millard Thomas, who caught the ball in traffic and was hit by two defenders at the 3-yard line, but spun out and walked into the end zone for the score.
After leading 12-7 at the half, Peach County extended its lead early in the third when Gilbert connected with Jaydon Gibson for a 17-yard touchdown pass that made the score 18-7. And with GAC breathing down Peach County’s neck, Gilbert and Woolfolk orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive that chewed up the majority of the clock in the fourth quarter. That drive ended in a 3-yard touchdown run by Woolfolk.
“What was that, like eight minutes?” Campbell asked after the game. “That’s championship material right there. … (Gilbert) had a great week in practice. We know what he’s capable of, and we put a lot on him to get us in the right plays and the right protections. He did a fantastic job of keeping us on the move all night long.”
He hit seven different targets, completing six passes apiece to Noah Whittington and Woolfolk, five to Gibson and four to Thomas. Thomas and Gibson both had touchdown grabs.
“I trust every one of them,” Gilbert said of his receivers. “They’re some young guys who are going to do big things. They caught everything tonight.”
GAC gave itself opportunities, striking back with a three-play touchdown drive that ended in an 11-yard scoring strike from Josh Rose to Jeffrey Blake to go ahead 7-3 in the first. Kyler McMichael scored on a 54-yard run in the third quarter to cut the Peach County lead to 18-13, and Trey Morrison brought in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Rose to make it 28-23 in the final seconds. An onside kick attempt with 16 seconds left, however, was not recovered, and Peach County held on for the win. McMichael rushed for 93 yards and a score in the loss.
Now, Peach County turns its attention to Calhoun, a team it has played once in a 20-14 overtime loss in 2015. Gilbert said he knew it was a challenge, but believed his team had what it took to bring home the state crown.
“We’ve got the same mindset,” he said. “Stay focused and attack the day.”