CAIRO, Ga. — Things got a little hairy at the end, but the Baldwin Braves are into the second round of the GHSA Class 4A state playoffs for a third straight year.
They handed the Syrupmakers of Cairo a 38-30 loss Friday night down in southwest Georgia to advance.
Baldwin moves on to the next round where it will face two-time defending Class 4A state champ Blessed Trinity who ended Troup County’s season Friday in a 40-14 decision. Next week’s playoff matchup will be played at Blessed Trinity in Roswell.
The Braves were up by as many as 24 points at Cairo, but the Syrupmakers rushed to put a couple of scores together in the fourth quarter to bring the score to 38-30. Baldwin’s Jordan Driskell collected the onside kick and handed the football off to his offense who had to kill about two minutes of clock to seal the victory. All-Region senior kicker/punter Lucas Webb lined up to punt the football away with eight seconds to go on fourth down and his ensuing boot was perfect as it left Cairo absolutely no time to get what it hoped would be an overtime-forcing score.
“This is a great win,” BHS head coach Jesse Hicks said in a postgame phone interview. “It’s playoff time and a new season, so everything starts 0-0 but now we’re 1-0 and we’ll move on to Blessed Trinity.”
If Friday’s playoff matchup were a sandwich then the host Cairo would be the bread whereas Baldwin played the role of the meat and fixins’. The Syrupmakers got on the board first by blocking Webb’s first punt of the night on the Braves’ game-opening drive. BHS answered with a 55-yard scoring dash from senior Noah Hill, but the Cairo special teams struck again right after as their return man Marquii Lovejoy took the following kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown.
Up 14-6 after one quarter, Cairo, who went 8-2 this regular season, would be kept silent the entire second and third quarters. The Baldwin defense pitched a shutout during those two periods that included a huge sack-fumble midway through the second. Coach Hicks’ offense meanwhile was running the football with authority and was also able to throw the football when needed. Region 3-4A Player of the Year Zaahir Salahuddin scored from close to bring his team to within two points with about eight minutes to go into the half, and the aforementioned strip sack put the ball back in BHS sophomore QB Derrick Lewis’ hands for one more drive before the break. On third-and-8 from the Cairo 22 he threw the football up to All-Region freshman wide receiver Shatavious Hogan who hauled it in for a score with just 28 seconds to go, putting the Braves up 19-14 at halftime.
Salahuddin’s second TD rush widened the margin to 11 in the third, making it three unanswered scores for Baldwin. The Syrupmaker defense finally got a much-needed stop about halfway through the period, but the ensuing punt was muffed by their return man and recovered by Baldwin at the 14. The Braves made the most of the extra opportunity as Hill got his second score of the night running behind the left side of the BHS offensive line. The Braves’ scoring barrage finally came to an end early in the fourth when Lewis hit receiver Antravius Brookins for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the visitors their widest lead of the night.
That’s when the Cairo offense finally got back into the ballgame, but it was too late. The Syrupmakers went on to score twice, but needed a third, leaving them with a sour taste in their mouths as their 2019 season is now at a close.
Asked how proud he was of his team for getting the big playoff win, Hicks replied, “If I could turn pink I would. We were down after some mistakes on special teams, which you can’t do in the playoffs, but I'm extremely proud of the way our kids fought back and finished. I just hope the people of Milledgeville are proud of these kids and what they’re doing. Hopefully they’ll get behind them and come up to Blessed Trinity to help us try to take this thing four more weeks.”