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Photo by Dawn Slocumb
Photo by Dawn Slocumb

Clinch County captured its fifth state title with a 24-14 win over Savannah Christian in the Class A championship game. The Panthers from Homerville sealed the deal with about six minutes left in the game by picking off a pass and immediately capitalizing for the game’s final touchdown.

The game started out a defensive struggle, with both Dorsey and SCPS quarterback Harrison Curry struggling with accuracy. There were no offensive first downs until about midway through the second quarter, with each possession ending in a punt. Clinch missed opportunities on a few early Dorsey overthrows, as he missed star wideout Fred Tiller on a few plays that could have gone the distance.

But in such a defensive-oriented game, it’s never a surprise when the first break comes on special teams. Clinch County struck first in the second quarter with a sensational punt return for a touchdown by Damian Magby, as the senior speedster zigged left, zagged right, and then broke left again to leave a host of would-be SCPS tacklers in his wake to reach the end zone from 42 yards out.

SCPS would answer immediately, however, mounting the game’s most impressive sustained drive. Going 74 yards to tie the game at 7-7, Curry settled down and hit Will Austin twice on the drive, including a smooth 19-yard delivery over the middle for the score.

At that time, it looked as if SCPS had found its mojo on offense with a good mix of power running, option and the passing game.

But the Raiders would have few chances the rest of the game to see what the offense could muster. SCPS shot itself in the foot with two fumbles and an interception in the second half, sealing its own fate.

The second half started promisingly for the Raiders, with the team getting a huge fourth-down stop on Clinch’s first possession near midfield. The teams then traded punts, giving the ball back to SC with a few minutes remaining in the third.

But SCPS would cough the ball up for the first time on the day on an Andrew Moore fumble. Clinch took possession at the Raider 21 and later settled for a Dalton Bennett 32-yard field goal, which caromed off the right upright and snuck through to give Clinch a 10-7 lead with 2:22 to go in the third.

On the next SCPS possession, pressured by a Clinch defender, Curry pitched a bit behind Nardo Govan and the ball was covered up by a Clinch defender, again at the Raiders’ own 21. This time, Clinch would go big right away. Dorsey lofted a nice pass to Tiller near the coffin corner of the end zone, and Tiller danced past a Raider defender to reach the end zone and make the score 17-7 Clinch.

Things looked extra-dim for Savannah Christian on the ensuing possession, with a third-and-19 play at their own 11 on the first play of the final quarter. But a miracle 89-yard TD pass to Austin put them right back in the game; Curry rainbowed the ball to about the SCPS 35, where Austin hauled it in near the sideline and reversed field to beat three Clinch defenders and hit paydirt. Clinch 17, SCPS 14.

After the Raiders got another fourth-down stop at midfield to regain possession, it looked like their game to lose. But an ill-advised throw by Curry fell into the waiting arms of Tiller, who took it back to the SCPS 47. The next play, however, was the dagger.

With the ball back in Clinch’s hands with a chance to ice the game, Dorsey did just that. He took the snap, scrambled right, and flung a deep pass to Tiller, who made a diving grab at the 5. Two plays later, Dorsey rumbled in for the score.

Tiller finished with four receptions for 97 yards and the score, while Austin was Savannah Christian’s main weapon with three catches for 121 yards and two scores.

Savannah Christian would have been the first former GISA team to win a state title, losing in the finals for the second year in a row. They finished the year at 13-2, while Clinch enjoyed its first undefeated season since 2002. Clinch head coach Jim Dickerson, also an alum, wins his second title at the school.