Macon County quarterback K’hari Lane acknowledged that the state record for touchdown passes in a season was always in the back of his mind.
Even when he went into Saturday morning’s Class A public-school final against McIntosh County Academy with 52 scoring strikes, just two short of tying Hutson Mason’s (Lassiter/UGA) mark of 54, the thought stayed firmly in the back of his mind.
But with a state championship win all but secured midway through the fourth quarter, and having tied the mark one quarter earlier, Lane went for it. The record-breaker was like most of Lane’s passes this season, a 21-yarder to junior Trey Brown that was on time and on target to make the score 28-0, as the Bulldogs went on to a 35-0 win and the first state title for Macon County since 1996.
“[The state record] was always in the back of my mind, but I’d rather get the win,” Lane said afterward. “The record was always out there to go get.”
Lane finished 16-for-23 passing for 183 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception, just his second on the season. But just as was the case with his only other pick of the season, it wasn’t his fault. Leading 7-0, on the first play of the second half, Lane’s spot-on pass bounced out of his receivers’ hands and into the arms of Buccaneer junior Michael Campbell, giving McIntosh County Academy the ball at the Macon County 40-yard line.
But the Bulldogs defense, as it has all season, rose to the occasion. McIntosh County Academy had moved inside the Macon County 20 when electric junior JP Palmer caught a short pass and was heading toward the end zone. But defensive back Jared Daniels came from his blind side and jarred the ball loose. The Bulldogs recovered and the threat was gone. Two possessions later, Lane threw the record-tying touchdown pass, 28 yards to Brown, for a 14-0 lead.
Palmer’s fumble was the second time the Buccaneers had turned the ball over in the red zone, something that was uncharacteristic of them all season.
“I think the big stage got to us a little bit,” McIntosh County Academy head coach Robby Robinson said, walking to the locker room. “But all credit goes to Macon County. They played on the same big stage as we did. But I’m proud of this group of kids. They were 0-10 two years ago. Right now, I'm praying on what I'm going to say to them now.”
Robinson, now in his second stint at the school in Darien, has resurrected the program that fell on hard times after he and his staff were let go in 2011. In spite of posting a record of 54-24 in seven seasons from 2004-10, with playoff appearances in each of those seasons, a new superintendent fired Robinson and his staff, wanting to go “in another direction.” That location was down, as the Buccaneers went 18-25 the next four seasons, including 0-10 in 2014. But this time Robinson wants the program to stay on top, with a solid nucleus of talent returning, including Palmer and Robinson's son, quarterback Major Robinson.
"It's going to take commitment from everybody," Robinson said. "Our kids, our school, our community. All of us."
As for Copeland, winning the state title meant achieving the goal his coaches and players set for themselves when offseason workouts started last year. And once the school dropped down to Class A after reclassification, the Bulldogs became the odds-on favorite to win it all. While their prolific offense grabbed all the headlines all season, the defense was largely responsible for Saturday's win.
“Our defense played great, like they have all year,” Macon County head coach Dexter Copeland said. “We had a great plan on offense and defense and the kids executed.”
Though Lane put together one of the more prolific seasons in Georgia high school football history, but has only three scholarship offers – Grambling, Hampton and New Mexico State, Copeland thinks that should change.
“I don’t know what these colleges are looking for,” he said. “But that kid is D-1.”
Lane feels the same.
“A team that offers me is going to get a hard worker, someone who is determined to be successful, and a winner,” he said.
McIntosh County Academy 0 0 0 0 0
Macon County 7 0 7 21 35
Macon County – Jared Daniels 13 pass from K’hari Lane (Abisai Gutierre kick)
Macon County – Trey Brown 28 pass from Lane (Gutierre kick)
Macon County – Daniels 19 run (Gutierre kick)
Macon County – Brown 21 pass from Lane (Gutierre kick)
Macon Couny – Brown 4 pass from Lane (Gutierre kick)