Frederica Academy was clinging to a 10-7 lead with less than three minutes to play against Valwood School in Friday’s GISA Class 3A semifinal playoff game when the unthinkable happened.
A bad snap from the 32-yard line rolled to deep into Knights territory, giving Valwood great field position at the 6-yard line.
After the Valiants failed to punch the ball into the end zone with three consecutive running plays, Caleb Burns threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Sam Martin with 23 seconds to go for a 14-10 Valwood win to earn a spot in the championship game.
While Valwood (9-4) celebrated on the field, Frederica head coach Brandon Derrick addressed his visibly dejected players in an emotional speech.
“You guys played your head out. You put it all on the line,” he said. “I’m at a loss of words right now.”
The game lived up to its billing as a matchup against two teams with strong defenses.
Neither team was able to move the ball deep into the opposing territory during the first half, which ended in a scoreless tie.
Frederica (8-4) got on the scoreboard quickly in the third quarter on a three-play drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jaylin Simpson to Ja’shawn Sheffield to give the Knights a 7-0 lead.
The Valiants drove the ball into Frederica territory on the next possession, but a 42-yard field goal attempt came up short.
Frederica extended the lead to 10-0 early in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard field goal by John Mitchell Brock.
Frederica intercepted the ball on the next possession after Isaiah Jackson tipped a pass to J.T. Elliott. Two plays later, Valwood intercepted a pass on their own 26-yard line. The Valiants drove the length of the field in eight plays, capping a scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown run by Martin to narrow the Frederica lead to 10-7. The Frederica turnover and subsequent Eagles touchdown on the next possession cost the Knights the game.
Derrick told his players he bore the responsibility for the loss, saying he could have made better calls during the game.
“You did everything you could,” he said. “It’s a life lesson. I’m asking why, too. We made a couple more mistakes.”
Derrick thanked his seniors who were one game away from a state playoff appearance and promised his returning players they will be even more competitive next season.
“We’re going to get there, I promise you,” he said. “This is the most painful loss I’ve endured.”
Valwood will face Gatewood or Trninity Christian-Sharpsburg the championship game Nov. 17 in Macon.