Forsyth - Brian Nelson has had better birthdays.
Peach County took care of spoiling Nelson’s 43rd with a fairly dominant second half in pulling away for a 35-14 win Friday night at Dan Pitts Stadium in a battle of ranked teams in different classifications.
The Trojans improved on both sides of the ball in the second half and kept the Bulldogs from mounting many threats.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Peach County head coach Chad Campbell said. “The second half, I think we just wore them down. I can’t say enough about the kids. They didn’t flinch. And a hostile environment, too.”
Peach County, ranked second in Class AAA by the AJC, improved to 3-1. The Trojans visit Westside at the Ed Defore Sports Complex in Macon next week in the Region 4-AAA opener.
Mary Persons, No. 10 in the AJC's Class AAAA poll, fell to 3-2. The Bulldogs open Region 2-AAAA play on Sept. 19 at Spalding.
Both teams have battled injury issues this season, but the Trojans came in with much more experience, and thus more depth. The Bulldogs had only two starters back overall.
“We’ve got to continue to get better,” said Nelson, who dropped to 54-14 in his sixth season. “We’ve got to learn from this game and get better.
“Almost all our guys playing out tonight, it was the fifth varsity football game they’ve played in."
Mary Persons was in good, if not fortunate, shape with a 14-all halftime tie, even after taking a 7-0 lead early when Peach County botched a field goal attempt with a ground-ball kick after a bobbled snap, and it was returned 70 yards by Daniel Lavelle less than four minutes into the game.
“We were in a fog,” Campbell said. “We go over this. We got to damn tackle somebody.”
The Trojans had started controlling the ball, despite failing to take advantage of a Mary Persons fumble on the first play of the second quarter. Peach County tied it at 14 with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Chris Gibson’s 2-yard run with 1:33 left in the half.
The teams exchanged a pair of three-and outs to open the third quarter, then Peach County’s Trevon Woolfolk went off the right side, showed some nice footwork and pulled away for a 61-yard touchdown. Mitchell Fineran’s kick made it 21-14 with 9:44 left in the third.
“That’s my fault,” said Nelson, who watched a 60-yard pass play from his offense nullified moments later by a holding call. “We had a bad call. They got us in a formation, we were trying to do something. I screwed up.”
A 47-yard punt return by Kearis Jackson - no doubt thrilled to get his hands on a kick since most went far from him, including one late in the game that went into the stands - put the Trojans on the Mary Persons 19.
Gibson went right and seemed ready to score, but fumbled out of the end zone. Inside the 10 sat a flag, and Mary Persons’ defense was called for a chop block.
“We had this happen to us in ’03 in the state championship game against LaGrange,” Campbell said. “Our lead blocker was going out and they cut him. Same thing happened to us in ’03. You don’t usually get it called.”
Mary Persons coaches saw it differently.
“If you watch the film … Our guys were saying up in the booth – you can see it all right after it happens with all the technology stuff – he hit the guy right in the gut,” Nelson said. “I was thinking it’s a touchback. That’s a stop. We get the ball.”
Nevertheless, Mary Persons went from having the ball on the 20 to defending the end zone from the 1, quarterback Antonio Gilbert covering the yard on the first play for a 28-14 lead at the 4:56 mark of the third quarter.
“That was a big turnaround right there,” Campbell said. “That was a big turning point in the ballgame.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t get going on offense when they did get the ball back. Peach County ran 23 plays in its next two possessions to seven for Mary Persons.
The Trojans eliminated a full eight minutes in the fourth quarter with a 16-play, 92-yard scoring drive that included three third-down conversions, Gibson scoring on third and goal from the 2.
Gibson carried 27 times for 130 yards and Woolfolk eight times for 124. Gilbert was 17 of 24 for 137 yards.
“The biggest thing is in the second half, we couldn’t get the ball away from them,” Nelson said. “They just possessed it so well. We couldn’t get stops. Sometimes we had them backed up and we let them out.
“They have so many weapons. They’re a pretty dang good football team.”