On the sixth anniversary of the program’s first state championship, Frederica Academy rolled previously undefeated John Milledge 48-0 en route to its second title.
The Knights (10-3) built a 28-point lead in the first half and left no doubt they’re the best team in the GISA’s highest classification by holding the Trojans (12-1) off the scoreboard in their biggest win of the season, avenging their regular-season loss in the process.
It’s been a just over a month since John Milledge defeated Frederica 14-13 in overtime, but it felt like a lifetime ago Friday at Mercer’s Five Star Stadium in Macon.
“Throughout the whole game, the whole emotion was revenge,” said linebacker Harry Veal. “Because they already beat us this year in overtime. We were trying to prove it was a fluke, and by the final score, I think we showed it.”
A senior at Frederica, Veal set the tone for the team’s best defensive performance of the season with two consecutive tackles for a loss in the first quarter to force a John Milledge punt.
After scoring a touchdown to extend the Knights’ lead to 21-0 in the second quarter, Veal made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball by leading the charge to stop the Trojans’ running back short of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line.
Frederica head coach Brandon Derrick said John Milledge woke a “sleeping giant” in its victory earlier this season, and he was proven correct as his team rattled off four straight wins by an average margin of 38 points.
“I think the only reason why they beat us is because we gave up,” said Under Armour All-American Ja’Shawn Sheffield. “A lot of players were hurt. I thought the team just wasn’t feeling it.
“(John Milledge) thought they were that good. We just weren’t playing physical and disciplined when we played them the first time. That’s what I thought. I knew we were going to blow them out when we came here.”
Sheffield left the first game between the title game contenders with an injury in the second quarter. He showed early on the kind of impact he provides by setting up Frederica’s first touchdown with a long run on the team’s second possession of the game.
Though he only touched the ball a handful of times, Sheffield made every moment count, including a touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to punctuate the Knights’ victory and a big day for the Auburn commit.
“I mean, today’s my birthday, so I’m happy about that,” Sheffield said. “Then we got the win. I’ve been waiting on this four years. We’ve been working hard for this for four years. I thought last year we were supposed to win it, but stuff happened.
“So, this year, I promised myself, me and the team, we promised ourselves that we were going to get here and win it.”
Having come up just short of a state championship in the previous two seasons, the evening was particularly sweet for the seniors in the program.
It was blatantly apparent how much a title meant to J.T. Elliott late in the third quarter. Already up 34-0, Elliott threw a John Milledge defender to the ground with a vicious stiff arm eliciting cheers from the Frederica sideline as he set up another touchdown.
“We’ve been working for it all year,” Elliott said. “Our team, we’ve meshed perfectly, we’ve grown together, and we became a brotherhood. That’s why we won.
“We played as a team, a unit, and with unity is victory.”
For quarterback Jaylin Simpson, who finished the game 10-of-12 for 159 yards and a score through the air and another 44 yards and a touchdown on the ground, it was the opportunity to celebrate the title with his teammates that made the victory so satisfying.
“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever played with in my life,” Simpson said. “That’s what makes it so special, and I wouldn’t trade them for any other team.”
For all the excitement as the Knights’ fans, players and coaching staff celebrated on the field at Five Star Stadium, the championship still hadn’t quite set in for Derrick, even after receiving the customary Powerade shower.
“Right now, I’m just so relieved that the kids played as great as they did,” Derrick said. “I’m excited. I’m excited for the community, the school. It’s just a big thing.
“We brought a football state championship back to Glynn County, and it’s a good thing.”
In a moment the players at Frederica have dreamed of for years: the Knights completed their march. They made their mark.
“It feels good,” Sheffield said. “I feel like me and my boys are going to go down in history right now. We’re going to be remembered at Fred. I’m pretty excited about that.”