Thomas County Central intercepted Marist quarterback Myles Willis in the final minute to preserve a 21-17 win Friday night at Hughes Spalding Stadium in Atlanta.
Willis, a Boston College commitment, led the War Eagles from their own 23-yard line to the Yellow Jackets’ 23 when his pass to Gregory Taboada was tipped and grabbed by defensive back Willie Ivey. Willis hit Taboada for a 22-yard fourth-down pass earlier in the drive, but a repeat fell inches short.
“We practice that situation every Wednesday,” Thomas County Central head coach Bill Shaver said. “He’s our best corner and made a big play. I was proud our defense stepped up. We didn’t want a running team to move the ball down the field throwing it.”
The finish was nothing out of the ordinary for these teams, which had several previous games end in similar fashion. Marist won the last matchup but had lost the previous five.
Marist beat Central in the 2003 at the Georgia Dome, one game before winning the school’s most recent state title. Central won the year before in the same setting. Going back to their first matchup in 1996, four of the seven games in the series were state semifinals.
Deondre Cooksey rushed for 159 yards, including 123 and two touchdowns after halftime for Central (2-1). His 48-yard burst late in the third quarter set up a 3-yard plunge and gave Central its first lead at 14-10.
Marist responded with an 80-yard drive aided by two personal fouls, and Willis walked in from one yard out. Central went back ahead when Cooksey ran another in from two yards to complete a 55-yard drive for the game’s last score.
“We made some adjustments and our linemen made some key blocks for Deondre,” Shaver said. “They were basically giving us the handoff to the back. When you take away the quarterback, the running back has to step up, and he did that for us.”
Five of Willis’ passes were completed on the final drive, to five different receivers. “I felt confident they would get in the end zone,” Chadwick said of the two-minute offense. “They kept fighting the whole way. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get better.”
TCC 7 – 0 – 7 – 7 – 21
Marist 7 – 0 – 3 – 7 – 17
Marist – Ray King 3 run (Fletcher Malloy kick)
TCC – Damion Williams 1 run (Gavin Wilson kick)
Marist – Brandon Young 47 FG
TCC – Deondre Cooksey 3 run (Wilson kick)
Marist – Myles Willis 1 run (Malloy kick)
TCC – Cooksey 2 run (Wilson kick)