The McEachern Indians took control early over the Collins Hill Eagles to go up big. They relinquished their momentum – and the lead – thanks to penalties and were on the cusp of seeing their season end. Then Taj Griffin happened.
Griffin scored on a long punt return that proved to be the difference, as the Indians held on to beat the Eagles 35-32 in the Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals.
The Indians (11-2), a No. 3 seed out of Region 4, are in the semifinals for the first time since 1998. They move on to play North Gwinnett.
Griffin – a four-star recruit and one of the state’s top juniors – returned a punt 85 yards with a minute remaining to put the Indians ahead. He had to run backward to field the punt, rounded to the middle then cut to the sideline, using his blockers to go untouched to the end zone.
The Eagles (11-2) took over on their own 42 with 42 seconds left and three timeouts. They marched all the way to the 20 with 10 seconds left. But they never got the chance for a game-tying field goal because Glenn Frazier’s second interception of the night ended the game at the 1-yard line.
Griffin was also a force in the run game with 158 yards and a score on 20 carries. He got help in the passing game from freshman Bailey Hockman, who was 13 of 20 for 183 yards and a touchdown to T.J. Rahming, who led the Indians with 80 receiving yards.
McEachern built a 28-10 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter, but then penalties sank in. Forty-five yards worth of personal foul penalties killed the Indians’ next possession and after they punted, they committed two facemask penalties that led to Tyler Henderson’s 1-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pulled the Eagles to within 28-18 after three quarters.
On the Indians’ next possession, two more 15-yard penalties on third down led to a punt that was returned 41 yards by Ari Benoit for another touchdown, pulling the Eagles to within 28-25.
With 6:28 left, the Eagles took the lead with Tyler Herman’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Henderson. They would hold that lead until Griffin’s big run.
Henderson finished with 79 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards, with a rushing and receiving touchdown. Herman was 22 of 40 passing for 123 yards and two scores.
McEachern 7 14 7 7 – 35
Collins Hill 3 7 8 14 – 32
C – Paul Ille 22 FG
M – Alizee Chubbs 1 run (Dennis Dominguez kick)
M – Taj Griffin 11 run (Dominguez kick)
M – T.J. Rahming 45 pass from Bailey Hockman (Dominguez kick)
C – Ari Benoit 6 pass from Tyler Herman (Ian Morrison kick)
M – Chubbs 1 run (Dominguez kick)
C – Tyler Henderson 1 run (Quentin Jones pass from Herman)
C – Dwayne Smith 41 punt return (Morrison kick)
C – Henderson 36 pass from Herman (Morrison kick)
M – Griffin 85 punt return (Dominguez kick)
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