Sandy Creek loses overtime heartbreaker

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Elijah Gilmore and the defense were their usual dominant selves, even in a loss. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

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Chandler Tuitt and the offensive line blew open holes all night for the Patriot attack.

In the greatest games, one team is the winner and one team has to lose. Far more often than not, Sandy Creek has been the victor. On Friday night, they were left with the sting of defeat in an epic 14-7 overtime loss to the Bainbridge Bearcats.
They lost to a quality opponent on their own field, making the nearly eight-hour round trip bus ride down south. The Patriots had the backing of the most loving, dedicated, and vocal group of family and fans cheering them on as they battled the undefeated Bearcats.
“Our kids played hard and did everything they were asked to do,” said Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker. “It’s a great group of kids. I just feel bad, it’s not the way we wanted it to end.”
You could’ve said all year that the Sandy Creek defense has played lights out ball, but it came a bit too literally this night. With under five minutes left in the game and Bainbridge coming up to the line to run a play, all of the stadium lights shut off, leaving the field in darkness. While the scoreboard stayed on, it took more than 20 minutes to get the lights back on, throwing a strange wrench into an already compelling game.
It was another night when the Patriot defense was at the top of their game, giving up only 167 total yards. Against a team that puts up 32 points a night, Sandy Creek allowed just seven in regulation, and those perhaps should have never made the scoreboard. DJ Forte, Colby Warrior, Gary Davis, Nate Brown, Taylor Hodge, and the rest of the defensive line clogged up running lanes all night, clearing the way for Elijah Gilmore, Will Harper, and Antonio Trapp to run sideline to sideline making plays. Javon Jackson, Mychael Jenkins, Tariq Muhammad, Ian Barnes, and Isaac Appling and the secondary were airtight, allowing just 53 passing yards.
Sandy Creek just could not manage to score the points they needed to topple the Bearcats. The first half brought a pair of golden opportunities that got away. The Patriots marched down the field on their opening possession, Bryant Walker picking up a chunk through the air on a 16-yard pass to Parker Mallett. Marvin Hubbard added a 12-yard run, and Eric Woods moved the chains on third-and-short with a two-yard rumble. The drive bogged down, forcing them to settle for a field goal attempt that came up short.
“We left so many points on the field for it to be a 14-7 game,” said Walker.
The defense got them the ball right back. On third down, Colby Warrior pressured the quarterback into throwing into coverage, where Mychael Jenkins broke it up to force a punt. The ensuing drive that rolled into the second quarter started with a key 10-yard pass from Walker to Korey Banks to convert third-and-long. The chains moved again when Hubbard cut back across the field, and Javon Jackson unleashed a crushing block to seal off the edge on an 11-yard run. Banks and Walker connected for another third down conversion, but the drive still came up short. Facing third-and-11 from the Bainbridge 31 yard line, Walker hit Mallett up the post at the goal line, but he could not haul it in. An incomplete pass on fourth down handed the ball back over.
Trading failed drives, Bainbridge punted, but a short kick caused confusion. A Bearcat appeared to block a Patriot into the ball, and the officials initially agreed, signaling it belonged to Sandy Creek and the offense took the field. Before they could run a play, the officials huddled together and changed the ruling to a recovery by Bainbridge inside the red zone. Sandy Creek was livid, but they took it out on the field. Javon Jackson came through with a spectacular leaping interception at the two-yard line to keep the Bearcats off the board and keep it a scoreless tie at halftime.
Bainbridge scored the game’s opening points on their first drive of the second half, again with a little assist from the officials. Going for it on fourth down, the Bearcats looked sunk when Jackson picked off another pass, but a flag was thrown for pass interference. Bainbridge took advantage, punching it in from one yard out for a 7-0 lead.
The Patriots answered right back. Getting into gear with another Banks third-down conversion, Jaelon Greene stepped into the backfield as the hammer, grinding out two big runs to get into the red zone, one right behind the lead block of Sir James Prothro. It wasn’t just Prothro, but the whole starting offensive line with Chandler Tuitt, Savon Simmons, Chance Brown, and Cole Neely blowing open holes all night for the running game and giving Walker a clean pocket to throw from.
Walker used that time to hit Jackson for a 15-yard completion, setting up Greene for a one-yard touchdown to tie the game at the tail end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started without much fanfare, as both offenses scratched to get back to pay dirt. The story of the game changed with the lights shutting off with 4:26 left in the game.
Sandy Creek had a chance to seal up the game following the delay. Mychael Jenkins continued his unreal tear of late, picking off a pass and returning it to the Bainbridge 27 yard line, his fourth interception in two playoff games. Hubbard chewed up key yardage before going down in pain. The Patriots faced third-and-1 but should have been given a first down when the Bearcats were caught with too many men on the field. Instead, the officials let them call a timeout. A false start would back them up and force a different approach.
With 34 seconds left in regulation, the Patriots looked to have made a 24-yard field goal, but it barely missed, sending the game to overtime.
Bainbridge got the ball to start overtime, and the Patriot defense did what they had done all night for the first three downs. Facing fourth-and-9 from the 19 yard line, the Bearcats decided to go for it all. The quarterback was able to buy himself time and found a receiver for a sliding catch in the end zone and a 14-7 lead.
The Patriots got close to extending the game but came up yards short. After moving the chains with a completion to Jackson, who stretched out for the first down, the drive bogged down. Bearcat defensive backs broke up two passes to force fourth-and-goal from the 3 yard line. The Patriots tried to catch them off guard, pitching the ball to Banks on a reverse. Banks nearly got to the edge but had his legs taken out from under him too soon to get to the end zone.
The Bearcats and their supporters charged the field in elation, while the Patriots were left to pick up the pieces. It probably didn’t sink in on the long, long ride home to Tyrone, but eventually they will be able to step back and appreciate the game. They left every single inch of themselves out on that field. They did not win, but they made the whole Patriot family proud.

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About

Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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