On Friday at Blessed Trinity and playing in the de facto Region 7-AAAA title game, it seemed the only way the Marist War Eagles could thrive was if they were under extreme duress.
Needing a touchdown on their final drive, they converted on three fourth downs, eventually scored the needed touchdown and then took the lead with a 2-point conversion, escaping with a 25-24 win in a battle of top five teams.
Marist quarterback Chase Abshire scored from 2 yards out with 53 seconds remaining and for the point after, the War Eagles offensive unit took the field, forcing Blessed Trinity to call its final timeout. Then Abshire connected with Kyle Hamilton on a slant pass for the go-ahead score. It was the only lead Marist had. The score capped an 18-play drive that began with 5:46 remaining and was extended with conversions on fourth-and-4, fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-9.
“It was just really special,” said Abshire, who finished 9 of 19 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown to go with 10 rushing yards and another score. “Playmakers making plays, that’s all there is to it.”
With the win, the No. 3 War Eagles are 8-0, 2-0 in 7-AAAA and in the driver’s seat for their first region title since 2013. The No. 4 Titans fall to 7-2, 2-1 after beating Marist 28-26 last year on the way to the Region 7 title.
Pulling out a win looked like it would be a struggle for the War Eagles after the first half, when they trailed 17-7. Penalties, bad snaps, sacks and turnovers stunted their ability to gain equal footing with Blessed Trinity, though they managed a touchdown with 2:08 remaining in the first quarter on Dean Johnson’s 8-yard run, which tied the game at 7.
Marist’s game-opening drive began on the 36, but they were called for a hold on the first play, then a bad snap pushed them back to the 8-yard line on the next play. The War Eagles punted the ball away, and on their next drive they managed a 16-yard punt from their own 8, which set up the Titans’ first score — a 24-yard run from Steele Chambers, his first of three rushing touchdowns.
Aside from Johnson’s touchdown, Marist’s first-half possessions ended in four punts and a lost fumble. A Chambers 5-yard run and an Ethan Chauvin 29-yard field goal gave the Titans their 10-point halftime lead.
“We were working against the chains the whole night with penalties and the one turnover we did have and (the Titans) kept getting short fields,” Marist coach Alan Chadwick said. “We just kept hanging in there and hanging in there.”
The War Eagles defense kept hope alive with three interceptions, including from Hamilton in the first half and Johnson and Ben Rosing in the second half. Rosing’s interception set up Marist’s game-tying scoring drive, which ended on a Abshire-to-John Fitzpatrick 27-yard play-action pass with 1:18 left in the third quarter that knotted the score at 17.
That score marked a 10-0 Marist run to open the second half, with Timmy Bleekrode adding a 20-yard field goal on the drive before Rosing’s interception.
The Titans started the second half with two punts and an interception to let the War Eagles back in the game. After Marist tied it, the Titans answered with their final score, which came on a five-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a Chambers 1-yard run, giving Blessed Trinity a 24-17 lead with 5:50 remaining.
Marist started the ensuing drive on its own 27. Three plays in, Abshire gained 2 yards on 3-and-1 to extend the drive. Four plays later on fourth-and-4 on the Marist 44, he connected with Hamilton on a 4-yard pass that required a measurement. It was so close that the Titans thought they’d stopped Marist and began celebrating as the officials measured, but seconds later the War Eagles celebrated when a first down was called.
Six plays later, Marist faced a fourth-and-8 on the Blessed Trinity 30 with 1:50 remaining when Abshire hit Johnson near the sideline for an 11-yard gain. Four plays after that, on fourth-and-9 from the Blessed Trinity 18, Abshire connected with Fitzgerald on a 16-yard pass that put the War Eagles on the 2. Abshire ran it in the next play.
For the extra kick, Marist initially ran the kicking unit on the field, but called its final timeout to discuss whether to go for 2.
“I got outvoted by my coaches,” Chadwick said. “I wanted to kick, they wanted to go for it, so we went for it.”
The Titans had a final chance with 46 seconds and no timeouts starting on their own 35, but went four-and-out, then Marist got in victory formation with 18 seconds left.
In the five-team Region 7, the War Eagles have already beaten West Hall and have White County and Chestatee — both winless in league play heading into Friday — to close out the season. As long as they play to their capabilities, they will have a No. 1 seed for the state playoffs and their first 10-0 regular season since 2000.
“The focus for the rest of the season is to keep building on this,” Abshire said. “There was a lot of mistakes, lot of turnovers and a lot of ways to keep getting better.”
Marist was led by Fitzgerald’s 69 yards and a score on four catches and Johnson had 40 yards on three catches. Chris Zowine had 64 yards on eight carries to lead the rushing attack.
Ryan Davis had 80 yards on four catches for Blessed Trinity and Jake Smith was 10 for 19 for 133 yards and three interceptions. Chambers had 55 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries and Elijah Green had 49 yards on 11 carries.
Marist 7 0 10 8 - 25
Blessed Trinity 7 10 0 7 - 24
B - Steele Chambers 24 run (Ethan Chauvin kick)
M - Dean Johnson 8 run (Timmy Bleekrode kick)
B - Chambers 5 run (Chauvin kick)
B - Chauvin 29 FG
M - Bleekrode 20 FG
M - John Fitzpatrick 27 pass from Chase Abshier (Bleekrode kick)
B - Chambers 1 run (Chauvin kick)
M - Abshier 2 run (Kyle Hamilton pass from Abshier)