By David Purdum / For the AJC
The Carrollton Trojans found out they weren’t ready for a big game on Nov. 1, when defending champion Sandy Creek came into their stadium and handed out a deflating 24-7 loss. The Trojans’ confidence was shaken. Their feelings were hurt, and their senior defensive captain Casey Collins was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
“He was our leader, made all the calls and checks,” said Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague. “We emotionally hated it for him, and we got our feelings hurt, because we weren’t quite as ready as we thought we were for a big game. But once they got over having their feelings hurt and having their bubble burst that they might not be as good as they thought they were, they went back to work and with a purpose.”
The Trojans’ swagger has returned during a playoff run featuring three road wins over ranked opponents, including last week’s four-overtime thriller at No. 5 Marist. But Carrollton’s biggest test comes this afternoon in the AAAA state championship game (5: 30 p.m.) against a dynamic Griffin team that knocked off Sandy Creek on the road on its way to the Georgia Dome.
The Bears enter their first state championship game since 1980 knowing how to handle adversity. Senior quarterback Jaquez Parks, whose college offers include Harvard, has led second-half comebacks in the quarterfinal win over Sandy Creek and last week over Wayne County. But, like Carrollton, Griffin lost key contributor against Sandy Creek. The Bears’ top running back Malik Miller is out for today’s game with a leg injury. Devontae Freeman and Randall Hunt have stepped up in Miller’s place, coach Steve DeVoursney said.
DeVoursney played in two Georgia state championship games as a defensive tackle for R.E. Lee High School, but this will be his first coaching in a title game. He has picked the brains of his coaching colleagues for advice about the build-up and says he’s going with the standard cliché of “business as usual.”
“I don’t know if we’re better off being even-keel and just getting the job done (in practice) or being jacked-up and trying to knock each other out,” said DeVoursney. “I don’t know which way I’d like it. I just know that on Saturday that they’re fired-up and ready to go. That’s when it counts.”
This will be first meeting in the modern era between these two consistently strong programs that are located 60 miles apart. Griffin has reached the semifinals four times and the playoffs in each of DeVoursney’s 13 seasons. Carrollton is in the championship game for the second time in four years and has reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs in eight Teague’s 12 seasons.