By Jeff Hood
For the AJC
Bogart – The Class A private school semifinal between Landmark Christian and Prince Avenue figured to be a fast-paced matchup between two high-powered rushing offenses.
Instead, fans gathered at Brad Akins field just outside of Athens Friday night were treated to just the opposite.
In a lengthy contest filled with plenty of long runs, lots of passes and some razzle dazzle, Prince Avenue held off a furious fourth-quarter rally by Landmark before pulling away for a 32-22 victory.
Afterward, Prince Avenue coach Mark Farriba gathered his team at the 3-yard line and pointed to the end zone.
“Men, there is only one left,” Farriba said, while pointing to the goal line. “And that’s the line at the Georgia Dome.”
A year after falling in the semifinals to eventual Class A state champion Savannah Christian, the Wolverines avenged the loss and punched their ticket to play on the grandest stage in high school football next weekend.
“Since I was little, I’ve always seen (the state championships) on TV,” said Prince Avenue running back Carl Mattox, who scored twice Friday night. “There are some amazing guys that have played in those games and I never really thought of it being me out there.
“But to get close and now make it like we did, this is just crazy.”
The fourth quarter turned into a slugfest between two prize fighters that each swapped a pair of touchdowns.
But a key moment in the game occurred midway through the third quarter after Landmark chose to back up the Wolverines on a blocking penalty. That’s when Prince Avenue, for the majority of the second half, seized control of the contest.
If the penalty had been denied, Prince Avenue would have faced fourth-and-4 at their own 39.
Landmark’s gamble proved costly on the next play when Mattox took the handoff and raced 33 yards for an improbable first down. The drive culminated with a 35-yard field goal by Tyler Foster to put Prince Avenue ahead by 10 with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
The War Eagles answered five plays later when Stockton McGuire connected with Josh Nobles for a 34-yard scoring strike to trim the deficit to three.
But Prince Avenue countered five plays later after Zach Graham fired a 43-yard touchdown pass to Titus Campbell to pull ahead 24-14.
“It was an emotional swing,” Mattox said. “Just as soon as you thought you had some momentum, they’d come at you hard.”
After forcing a quick Landmark punt following the War Eagles’ opening series of plays, Prince Avenue drove 65 yards in eight plays and appeared content to settle for a field goal.
But the Wolverines went to their bag of tricks as holder Carl Mattox took the snap and raced 15 yards around the right corner for a Prince Avenue touchdown.
Both defenses stepped up during the remainder of the first quarter, resulting in a series of punts. But there were plenty of twists and turns during the second period of play that included a string of penalties, turnovers and big plays.
With the ball on the Prince 43 early in the second quarter, Landmark’s McGuire dropped back and attempted to toss a screen pass to Josh Nobles.
But Nobles, who had plenty of open field in front of him, was forced to catch the ball at his shoestrings. It was resulted in an incompletion. Two plays later and still trailing by seven points, the War Eagles turned the ball over to Prince Avenue on downs.
After failing to capitalize on a fumble by Prince Avenue’s Mattox deep in Wolverine territory with 8:36 remaining in the first half, Landmark managed to convert Prince Avenue’s next turnover into points.
A four-play drive that started on Prince Avenue’s 28-yard line was capped off by a 32 yard touchdown pass from Ben Baggett to Nobles. McGuire added the PAT to tie the game.
Two plays later, Prince Avenue averted disaster after Graham appeared to fumble. The initial call gave possession to Landmark. But the call was later overturned, giving the Wolverines new life.
Prince Avenue took advantage on the next play when Mattox raced 75 yards up the middle to put the Wolverines ahead by seven.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Landmark’s Stockton threw a 43-yard strike to put the War Eagles in scoring position just before intermission.
After moving the ball to Prince Avenue’s 3, Landmark wound up missing a 20-yard field goal to trail by seven at halftime.
L – 0 – 7 – 0- 15-22
P – 7 – 7 – 3 –15-32
P – Carl Mattox 15 run (Tyler Foster kick)
L – Ben Baggett to Josh Nobles 32 pass (Stockton McGuire kick)
P – Mattox 75 run (Foster kick)
P – Foster 35 kick
L – McGuire to Nobles 35 pass (McGuire kick)
P – Zach Graham to Titus Campbell pass (Foster kick)
L – Jeremiah Kirkland 5 run (Baggett to John Knight pass)
P – Conner Sibley 24 run (Mattox run)