MACON, Ga. — The GISA AAA state championship football game between John Milledge and Frederica Academy Friday wasn’t a competition, it was a coronation.
The Trojans (11-0) triumphed 49-0 over the knocked-out Knights (9-4), putting a big bow on JMA’s 2020 season two weeks before Christmas.
Friday’s championship victory was the realization of a longtime expectation for the program that has had something very special with this year’s stacked senior class. The group of more than 20, along with a group of key underclassmen, has helped John Milledge football win 24 straight games dating back to last season. Those who have been on the team since sophomore year have enjoyed a phenomenal 37-1 win-loss record the last three seasons, including back-to-back state titles and one runner-up finish.
Tenth-year JMA head coach JT Wall, who has led his high school alma mater to three football state championships now, talked about that special senior class in a postgame interview.
“It’s a little tough,” he said. “It’s bittersweet because 21 of these dudes are leaving with everything they’ve meant to this program. Practice this week was rough, [Thursday] especially. It’s not just about losing great players, it’s losing the great people that these guys are. Every one of these guys has a story, and it’s unbelievable to see the hard work they’ve put in. We saw the fruits of their labor tonight.”
The Trojans’ lone loss the last three seasons came in 2018 against Friday’s championship opponent, the Frederica Knights of St. Simons Island. John Milledge got a great deal of revenge from that 48-0 loss last year with a 50-0 regular-season win over the Knights, but that wasn’t enough for this Trojan group. They had to return the favor on GISA football’s biggest stage, Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in Macon.
“There is no higher feeling than this right now,” JMA senior captain Patrick McDonel said. “Coming back out here and beating them 49-0 after what they did to us two years ago and finishing as back-to-back champs — it doesn’t get any better than this.”
While Friday’s final score may make it seem like the Trojans were in absolute control from the opening kick, that was not the case. The two championship contenders traded punts early, and the Frederica fans were loving it. That moral victory was about the only thing they left Five Star Stadium with Friday night, though. John Milledge got the kickstart it needed halfway through the opening period when junior linebacker Dawson Smith stepped in front of a Frederica pass and took it 45 yards for a touchdown. That lit a massive fire under the JMA sideline, and the Knights only fed the flames. Their very next play from scrimmage resulted in a second interception, this one in diving fashion by Trojan senior Taylor Dixon. Coach Wall’s offense turned that extra possession into points when Grayson Hopkins hit junior wideout Marcus Prestwood for a 33-yard score. That connection was just heating up, but more on that later.
Down 14-0, Frederica gave the football away yet again on the first play of its ensuing possession, this time when freshman running back Jordan Triplett fumbled on what began as a nice run from scrimmage. Banks Eady fell on the ball to give it back over to the JMA offense, who thanked the defense for the gift by putting up more points. McDonel optioned his way into the end zone on a 4-yard run to put his team up 21-0 with 2:18 still to play in the opening quarter.
In case you missed it, the Knights gave the football away on three consecutive plays and each time turned into a Trojan touchdown. Being opportunistic is the sign of a good team, and it’s a trait the Trojans showed all year long in a season that saw them give up only 27 points — that’s just four touchdowns — in 11 football games. Needless to say, JMA defensive coordinator Justin Mills was proud of his guys Friday.
“I’m happy for these seniors and this defense,” said Mills, who is also a Trojan alum. “They’ve played so hard this year. A shutout in the state championship is a great way to end it. Everybody on our defense is real smart, so they know how to adapt and adjust to certain offenses and they play hard.”
Mills’ defense forced four turnovers in all on the night with the final takeaway occurring late in the second quarter when Frederica was knocking on the door. The Knights had gotten all the way down to the John Milledge 2-yard line this time before giving the football away as McDonel picked off a pass and returned it out to his team’s 27. And yes, that turnover was converted into a touchdown as well. Hopkins followed his blocking on a designed QB run and covered 10 yards on his way to putting JMA up 42-0 before halftime. Chaze Goddard (48-yard reverse) and Landon Courson (5-yard fullback rumble) scored the earlier Trojan touchdowns in the second period.
That leaves only one JMA six-pointer on the night, and it came in style. Thanks to a couple of penalties, the Trojans were faced with third-and-33 near midfield halfway through the third. The Knight defense somehow still let Prestwood get behind them from his wide receiver position, and Hopkins hit him in stride for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Prestwood could not be covered all night long, and his stats reflected that fact as he finished with 170 yards on four catches with two touchdowns. After the game he credited “Coach Wall for calling the right plays, Grayson throwing beautiful balls, and God giving me the ability to catch it” for his big night.
After the score reached 49-0, the rest of the second half went by in blur, which is absolutely fitting because that’s pretty much all opponents saw when they took the field against John Milledge all season long. The Trojans outscored their Friday night counterparts 477-27 cumulatively in 2020 and won games by a more than 40-point margin on average. That doesn’t mean the team didn’t face any challenges. All-State senior running back Amaad Foston, who has back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons to his name, was hurt in the preseason and never took the field this year.
“A lot of people don’t think we went through any adversity,” Wall said. “We went through a ton of adversity. We lost one of the best players in the state in all classifications. The guys bounded together though, and found a way.”
“Find a way” was the team’s mantra this season. It all started back in the spring when school was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and players had to get creative with their workouts at home. In a year marked with uncertainty, the 2020 Trojans found a way to become as sure a thing you’ll find on the football field.