The night of Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 did not in any way go the way the John Milledge Academy football team had hoped.
Unlike the previous 12 occasions the Trojans took the field for competition that season, it was head coach J.T. Wall’s squad that came out on the losing end — in a big way. That night’s GISA AAA state championship game featured a rematch between Wall’s Trojans and the Frederica Academy Knights. John Milledge took the initial matchup at Frederica 14-13 in overtime, but a repeat performance with the championship on the line was not in the cards as the Knights took the title 48-0.
“The more physical team won both times,” Wall told The Union-Recorder just after addressing his team the night of the lopsided loss. “When we played them down there we were a lot more physical than they were, but they were more physical tonight. Those guys are good players and there’s a reason they’re the state champions.”
The Trojans were a perfect 12-0 entering that championship game, their closest taste of defeat having come just over a month prior in that first Frederica meeting on St. Simons Island.
“We went into halftime and we were traumatized,” said then junior, now rising senior Justin Aldridge at The Union-Recorder’s high school football media day Monday. “We didn’t play as good as we could and we didn’t try as hard as we could. This year we’ve got to flip that switch and be ready to play even if we’re coming out of halftime down three touchdowns.”
“It was tough,” Wall added. “As young as we were all year long some people may say we overachieved, but I think we got better each week. Any time you win 12 games in a year it’s a successful year. That’s what we strive for, but it was hard to see those seniors go out on that note because they did a great job of getting us there.”
From that point on the head coach, entering his ninth year, had a couple of options — urge his players to put that demoralizing state championship loss behind them and focus on 2019, or embrace that experience and turn it into a positive.
“We’re using it for motivation as much as we can. Every time we open the paper or read one of your articles we have to hear about it, but when you lose 48-0 you have to own it. We bought that meal, now we gotta eat it is what one of our old coaches used to say … The feeling you have walking off the field at Mercer after getting embarrassed the way we did is fuel for the fire for this year.”
Wall and the Trojans are in the midst of preseason practice in preparation for the 2019 campaign. John Milledge’s first regular season contest is scheduled for Aug. 30 at home against longtime rival and defending AA state champion Gatewood. Check out The Union-Recorder’s special football preview section coming out later this month for a full look at the season.