MACON, Ga. — The light rain falling at the start of Friday’s GISA AA state championship between the Gatewood Gators and Briarwood Buccaneers did nothing to stop the defending champ Gators from flooding the scoreboard early.
Gatewood got its second-consecutive state title by beating challenger Briarwood 49-7. The Gators piled the points in a hurry as they put up 21 in just over four minutes of game time, putting the Bucs in a big hole before they could even blink.
On top of gaining the program’s now back-to-back champ status, Gatewood earned the school’s fourth state football title with the one-sided win.
Needless to say, seventh-year Gators head coach Jeff Ratliff was proud of the way his team came firing out the gate. His players did so in the best way possible as senior Walt Jarrett jumpstarted the effort with an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the football game.
“My teammates had the wedge blocked good, and I just saw a hole right up the middle,” Jarrett said after the game. “I hit it as hard as I could and just took off.”
The Bucs, out of Warrenton, returned some air to their deflated sideline with a big play from quarterback Dax Reese on their opening drive, but it was all for naught because they fumbled the football away just a couple plays later. Gatewood senior linebacker James Williamson fell on it to set his offensive teammates up at the Briarwood 23. Two snaps later, senior fullback John Decker took a handoff 20 yards for his team’s second score. Coach Ratliff always gives a lot of credit to his team’s senior leaders, and they showed why Friday, as they were the ones setting the tone for their younger teammates.
Connor Olson, also a Gator senior, got in on the action during his team’s next drive as he caught a short pass from quarterback Luke Haley and scooted down the right sideline for a 26-yard score. After Haley dropped a dime to his wide receiver classmate Bryce Johnson for the team’s fourth touchdown, Olson would go on to show why he’s a Gatewood sprinter come track season. He zipped 35 yards to score on a reverse about halfway through the second quarter, ironically enough, giving his team a 35-0 lead.
The junior signal-caller Haley, who had a huge game in last year’s Gatewood state championship win, kept on the option and scored with 3:40 remaining in the second to close out his team’s first-half barrage.
Gator defensive coordinator Tyler VanDusen’s unit had what was believed to be a tough assignment entering the big game. His players had to stop Briarwood’s Reese and running back Lucas Freitas, two of the GISA’s more dynamic athletes. Reese broke loose on occasion, but if his number was being called, then that was also the case with Gatewood linebackers Williamson, Connor Richards and Will Harper. They had the Buccaneer run game on lockdown while the D-line led by massive senior Weston Wallace had Reese running for cover just about every time he dropped back to pass. Finally, the defensive backs stayed with their receivers nearly all night long.
Briarwood’s only score of the night came on a deep pass with only about three minutes left in the ballgame against Gatewood reserves, removing the shutout from the equation and making the final score only moderately more favorable.
The Gator scoring was spread around in Friday’s title matchup. Five different players hit paydirt for the team’s seven touchdowns, with Olson and Decker leading the way with two apiece.
The only question remaining after the AA championship game — how are the Gatewood players going to sport two massive state championship rings at the same time?
“Probably one on each hand,” Wallace said, “so whatever side people are on they can see at least one.”