It just wasn’t meant to be.
For the second year in a row, the Oconee County High School football team qualified for the state championship game. In 2019, the Warriors fell to Blessed Trinity in a battle for the Class AAAA title. Blessed Trinity won that game 17-14.
Last Wednesday, Dec. 30, the Warriors were back in Atlanta, this time hunting the Class AAA crown. They hoped to reverse history from the year before but, unfortunately for them, the return to Atlanta came with another painfully close defeat.
Oconee fell to Pierce County in overtime, 13-7.
The game started out as a defensive slugfest.
The mighty Oconee defense forced a punt following a three-and-out on Pierce’s game-opening possession. The Warriors followed it up with a three-and-out of their own.
Both teams mirrored each other again on their second possessions.
Pierce’s second drive ended with a punt after five plays. Oconee was finished after five plays on its ensuing drive, too, albeit after an interception by quarterback Jacob Wright.
The teams punted three times in a row. The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie.
Pierce County’s defense picked off Wright a second time with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter.
Fortunately for Oconee’s offense, its defense continued its strong play by forcing another punt.
Neither offense got anything going before halftime. The score at intermission was still tied at zero.
Fans were treated to three-straight punts following the break.
The fourth drive of the second half, a possession by Pierce County, ended when Liam Lewis forced and recovered a fumble.
Such as with Pierce County’s two earlier interceptions, though, the turnover did nothing to help spark Oconee’s offense.
The Warriors punted the ball away. They then forced another punt by Pierce.
Meanwhile, the game remained tied at zero through the end of the third quarter.
Finally, at the 10:05 mark of the fourth quarter, offensive sparks flew.
Wright delivered a perfectly placed 13-yard fade pass to the left side of the end zone. He threw it in the direction of junior tight end Jake Johnson.
There were two defensive backs in the immediate vicinity of the play. However, Johnson used his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame to box out the defenders, leap high into the air and snag the ball.
Johnson came down with both feet inbounds and the Warriors were finally on the board. They were up 7-0 with just over 10 minutes to play.
Pierce took possession after the customary kickoff. A holding penalty forced Pierce to start the drive facing a first-and-10 situation.
The Warriors seemingly had Pierce where they wanted it. Eventually, a third-and-13 play came up. That’s when Pierce found its own spark.
Pierce ripped off 45 yards on a passing play to advance the ball well past midfield. The team then had gains of 14 yards, 7 yards and 12 yards before scoring on a 5-yard run with just over seven minutes remaining.
Oconee tried to continue its success in the passing game from its last drive but the result was a quick three-and-out and a punt. The defense held Pierce out of the end zone, though, and got Oconee one last possession with 1:35 left in the game.
The Warriors picked up a first down on a throw from Wright to West Weeks but stalled on their next series. They ran the clock down to end the fourth quarter and send the game to overtime.
Oconee got the first crack at the end zone following the end of regulation.
On the first play of the overtime period, Wright again tried to connect with Weeks. Unfortunately for the Warriors, a Pierce County defender intercepted the pass.
Pierce’s D.J. Bell avoided a couple of tackle attempts on the very next play after Pierce took over possession, and he ran 15 yards into the end zone to score the walk-off touchdown.
Wright finished the game 11-for-21 through the air with 98 yards passing and a touchdown.
Seven Warriors combined to total 66 yards rushing, led by C.J. Jones with 26 yards on nine carries. Johnson had five catches for 44 yards and a score.
Justin Coleman punted seven times for a total of 265 yards, good for an average of 37.9 yards per punt. He placed two of them inside the 20-yard line.
Coleman also led the defense with seven total tackles, including a half-sack and one tackle for loss. Cam Eldridge had six tackles with one sack. Darius Johnson Jr. and Weeks also finished with six tackles apiece.
The Warriors’ season ended with a 12-1 record.
They were consistently among the top teams in the state en route to their Region 8-AAA championship and subsequent deep playoff run.