Joseph Wilber’s 61-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara on a third-and-14 in the final five minutes of the 21-14 victory over Lovejoy will go down as the biggest play in Norcross football history.
It also ranks pretty high in state finals history. The touchdown gave Norcross its first lead, 15-14, in Saturday’s Class AAAAAA final in the Georgia Dome. Failing to get a first down on that series would’ve made it tough for Norcross, which was struggling to get first downs on Lovejoy’s aggressive defense.
How does that play rank all-time? We’ll let you be the judge.
In 2008, I wrote a story and selected (with some research) the 10 greatest single plays in state finals history
The story and the list is below, followed by five clutch plays since the 2008 article was published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
10 GREATEST PLAYS IN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY (1947-2007)
> 1956: Pat Dye of Richmond Academy sacks Stan Gann of Northside of Atlanta on the final play, clinching a 13-7 victory in the biggest title game upset of the 1950s.
> 1967: Eddie Woody of Marietta returns a punt 61 yards in the fourth quarter in a steady rain at Grant Field as Marietta defeats Columbus 14-7, Marietta’s only state title.
> 1969: Andy Johnson of Athens completes a 26-yard tackle-eligible touchdown pass to Rand Lambert with 25 seconds left as the Trojans tie Valdosta 26-26 to break the Wildcats’ 26-game winning streak.
> 1971: Craig Roop of Bowdon stops Southeast Bulloch’s 2-point conversion at the 1-yard line with nine seconds left in a 20-19 victory.
> 1973: Kent Mason of Southwest Atlanta returns an interception from the end zone to the Americus 1-yard line as Southwest goes from trailing 7-0 to winning 21-7 in the final six minutes.
> 1980: Melvin Robertson of Greenville catches a 42-yard Hail Mary halfback pass from Darryl Ogletree on the final play in Greenville’s 12-10 victory over Clinch County.
> 1993: Corey Clark of Thomas County Central stops Thomasville on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 2:03 left to preserve a 14-10 lead in a 14-12 victory.
> 1996: Terrence Edwards of Washington County, the holder on an extra point, runs in a fake with 6:55 left in a 22-21 victory after trailing Americus 21-0 in the third quarter.
> 2000: Sean Dawkins of Parkview scores on a 99-yard run for a 19-7 lead after a goal-line stand against Harrison, in which he played linebacker.
> 2007: Tijuan Green of Northside-Warner Robins takes a snap from the shotgun with his quarterback lined up at receiver and throws a 40-yard touchdown pass with 5:23 left in a 20-14 victory over Ware County.
5 GREATEST PLAYS IN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY SINCE (2008-12)
> 2008: Christian Milstead of Camden County – a team not known for passing, especially then – throws an 85-yard TD strike to DeAngelo Smith to tie the score 14-14 against Peachtree Ridge. It is the second-longest TD pass in state finals history and helps Camden win 21-14.
> 2009: Luke Crowell of Peach County knocks down a two-point conversion attempt by Gainesville all-state quarterback Blake Sims with no time on the clock, clinching a 13-12 victory.
> 2010: Jamal Ware of Sandy Creek makes a jarring hit on a Carrollton runner at the Carrollton 1-yard line and forces a fumble that Sandy Creek recovers at the 9, preserving a 14-7 lead. Sandy Creek wins 14-7.
> 2010: Kurt Frietag of Buford tags Calhoun’s 1,500-yard rusher Dustin Christian for a 7-yard loss on a third-and-3 at the Buford 7-yard line in first overtime in state finals history. Buford wins 31-24.
> 2012: Joseph Wilber of Norcross completes a 61-yard TD pass to running back Alvin Kamara on a third-and-14 to give the Blue Devils a 15-14 lead in a 21-14 victory over Lovejoy.
Makers of big plays remember their glory days
Some of the heroes of Georgia’s high school championship games never played football again, their careers ending.
Others, such as former Auburn coach Pat Dye, went on to glory in college.
The state championships — which resume today and Saturday with five title games at the Georgia Dome — have produced memories of a lifetime for more than 60 years.
Kent Mason, a 53-year-old Atlanta restaurant owner, was moved to tears this week remembering his big play in 1973.
With less than six minutes left in the Class AA championship game, his Southwest Atlanta Wolves trailed 7-0. Americus was at the Southwest 11-yard line, poised to put the game away.
“Our principal had come down on the sidelines, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, Coach, we’re coming back, ‘” recalled Southwest’s coach, Ted Sparks. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, bothering me now.’ I wanted to kick him in the rear end. On the very next play, his son intercepted that pass.”
Mason ran it from the end zone to the Americus 1. Southwest sneaked it in, took an 8-7 lead and won 21-7, scoring three touchdowns in three minutes as desperate Americus collapsed.
That’s just one of the 10 greatest plays in championship game history.
Another came in 1956, when Dye was an all-state tackle for Richmond Academy of Augusta. Dye and Stan Gann of Northside in Atlanta were household names in Georgia high school football in the 1950s.
In ‘56, they faced off. Northside was heavily favored but trailed 13-7 with the ball at the Richmond 10. There was time for one play.
“I remember they were a better football team, and we were just hanging on for our lives, ” Dye said.
Dye sacked Gann. And he has never forgotten it.
“Being on that state championship team in 1956 and the relationships with those coaches without question had the greatest influence on my life of anything that’s happened before or since, ” Dye said. “I tell all those kids playing in those championship games [that] they need to cherish every moment because it’s a lifetime of memories.”
The 155-pound Craig Roop of Bowdon was the same kind of hero in 1971, but unlike Dye, who became an All-American at Georgia, Roop was not a college prospect.
Bowdon led 20-19 after Southeast Bulloch scored a touchdown with nine seconds left. Southeast went for two. Quarterback Ray Davis rolled out to pass, then broke for a corner of the end zone.
Roop and Davis collided, the impact leaving both briefly unconscious. Davis came to rest a yard short of the end zone, out of bounds.
“All I remember is fans waking me up and saying we won, ” said Roop, now a real estate agent in Commerce. “I still go back to Bowdon, and it almost never fails that when I walk into a restaurant that game still comes up. And I’m 55 now.”
Roop remembers fans lining the street as the team bus pulled back into town the next day. Bowdon had never won a championship in any sport.
Perhaps the only game with a more dramatic finish came in 1980, when Greenville trailed Clinch County 10-6 with 10 seconds left, 42 yards from the end zone.
Darryl Ogletree, who had rushed for 2,648 yards that season, took a pitchout, stopped and threw a long pass to star receiver Alexander Lakes, who was running in stride with a defender at the 5-yard line.
Both players got a hand on the ball, but it bounded ahead, and Greenville’s Melvin Robertson caught it, falling backward into the end zone.
“All the fans ran on the field, and people were jumping on top of me, ” Robertson said. “It really surprised me that I even caught it. It blew me away.”
Robertson, 47, lives in LaGrange and drives a tractor-trailer. Each of his four sons played football or baseball in college, but he jokes with them that they’ll never top what he did. It was Greenville’s first state title.
“That play put Greenville on the map, ” Robertson said.
For the 1973 Southwest Atlanta team, the story of community pride was paramount.
The GHSA had been integrated for seven years, but no all-black team had won a title in football. A sports reporter had written that Southwest, which had been ranked No. 1 the previous season only to lose in the first round, lacked the discipline to win a big game. Some in the community took it as a racial insult.
The principal says his conversation with the head coach — which also included ill-timed advice on what plays not to run — might not have been exactly one play before the interception, as coach Sparks remembered it.
“But it was a storybook finish like you’ve never seen, ” Dr. Charles Mason said. “A guardian angel led Kent down the sideline.”
The National Sports News Service ranked Southwest No. 2 in the nation behind the Baylor School of Chattanooga.
Kent Mason later played at Georgia Tech. He’s married with children. But the memory of that championship still beats all.
“There have been some other special things in my life, ” Mason said. “I have two kids, a 25-year-old who is legally blind, and we were told he wasn’t going to live 24 hours. He went to Furman.
“I have a daughter who is graduating from Georgia Southern on the 12th. But winning that championship, it’s special. It meant so much to a greater group of people.”