Every play matters in a football game, but some undoubtedly shine brighter than others.
Coaches from teams around the area picked their favorite play from this past season, broke it down, and described why the play stood out over the course of the season.
At Brunswick High, that play was the result of film study, implementation, and execution all coming together at the perfect moment.
The Pirates had practiced their tight end slow screen for weeks, but they wouldn’t find the proper moment to unveil it in live competition until their fifth game of the year.
While watching film of New Hampstead’s defense, the Brunswick coaching staff felt it could be the perfect opportunity to pepper the play into its game plan. The time came early in the first quarter, and once Xavier Bean snagged the pass, he tripped and fell for no gain.
But when the players returned to the sideline, they insisted the play was there to be had. The staff listened, noting that they’ve got to come back to the play later on. Now trailing 12-0 in the second quarter and facing a third-and-six just outside the red zone, Brunswick went back to its All-Region tight end and was rewarded with a much-needed 26-yard touchdown.
“It doesn’t sound like this big, miraculous play, it’s only 26 yards, but the reason why this play sticks out in my head was, it’s a big example of film study, going to the right play at the right time, the kids executing what we did in practice, and then, when you watch the clip, it’s one of those very few, rare clips where all 11 players are doing their jobs,” said Pirates receivers coach Jeff Braddy. “As a coach, it’s one of those things when you’re watching film, you can always find somebody that wasn’t doing something right. But this is one of those clips that’s like, ‘Wow, everybody, even the kids on the so-called backside of the play, were doing their job.’
“My two receivers, Tyrease Jones and Che Foy, they’re on the left side of the play, and you would think they have nothing to do with the play. But you actually see Tyrease run full speed 20 yards down the field, like he’s running a route, and it pulls the corner. Che runs the bubble, pulls the safety. They’re 100 percent not getting the ball, but it pulled two defenders with them.”
Quarterback KJ Lee sidearms the throw to Bean, who follows behind the Brunswick offensive line as it bulldozes its way down the field in a moment that came together perfectly: the defense was set up like the Pirates expected, they blitzed like expected, and each player executed their assignment.
Brunswick beat New Hampstead 29-19 before going on to win its first playoff game since 2010.
MCINTOSH COUNTY ACADEMY
McIntosh County Academy entered the season coming off a 1-9 campaign, and even with the return of coach with the best winning percentage in program history couldn’t prevent the Buccaneers from getting off to a 1-3 start, albeit mostly against programs from higher classifications.
But MCA won four of its final six regular-season games to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2016, beginning with a 48-14 victory over Brantley County in a contest that doubled as running back Trenton Johnson’s coming out party.
A member of the All-Region first team, Johnson had rushed for 243 yards and five touchdowns over the first four games before exploding for 193 yards and five scores against the Blue Herons on just 15 carries.
McIntosh led Brantley County 28-7 with fewer than nine minutes remaining in the third quarter when Johnson made what was head coach Bradley Warren’s favorite play of the season, taking a toss 27 yards for an electric scoring run.
“That was my favorite play because it really opened my eyes to how hard Trent was running the ball, how much effort he was putting in to running the ball,” Warren said. “I thought, ‘Wow, he’s not going to go down with an arm tackle, you’re really going to have to tackle this kid. I’m going to make them try to tackle him the whole ballgame if he’s going to run like that.’
“I felt like we really came out of the gate at the start of the first quarter and played a complete game. Honestly, I think that was the best game we’d played up until that point. The kids tried to do what I asked them to do, and that particular play just stood out because I thought, ‘Man, if I’m getting this kind of effort out of all these kids like he just did, we’re going to be fine.’”
After averaging just under 61 rushing yards per game over the first four contests, Johnson averaged over 104 yards per game following his monster performance against Brantley County en route to a 1,061-yard, 17-touchdown season.
At Camden, the play of choice represented a crystalizing moment for a historically great program looking to recapture the success of it’s glory days, which saw the Wildcats 13 consecutive region titles from 2001-13.
Camden’s got off to its best start since 2015 in the third season under head coach Bob Sphire, winning its first eight games leading up to the start of region play.
However, matched up against a couple of the top 10 teams in Class 7A, Camden dropped a pair of games heading into its regular-season finale on the road against Tift County. The Wildcats built a 20-0 lead in the first half, but the Blue Devils came out of the locker room and scored 13 unanswered points to make it a one-score game.
A few minutes later, Tift had narrowed the deficit to three points when Jamie Felix took a handoff out of the shotgun and ripped off a 37-yard touchdown run to ice the 30-20 victory with fewer than two minutes to play.
“We needed that to flip the momentum back to us,” Sphire said. “The offensive line really did a great job of executing it. It was just kind of one of those moments in time where you knew, he’s that kind of player that when the moment gets big, you can count on rising to the occasion. But really, it was great communication between the coaching staff, how they needed to execute on the offensive line to be successful, how he needed to hit it where he’d expect to hit it.
“That made us 8-2 on the season, and thinking back, I just remember that play was one of those moments. It was also, in our third year, it was kind of like, ‘OK, now everything is starting to come together. They understand what we’re doing with the system, how we can make adjustments during the game, and then they can go out and take it to the field.’”
Felix has since continued to receive significant interest on the recruiting trail, receiving offers from Auburn, Georgia, Florida, and Miami among others, but Camden still has the services of the Class of 2022 running back for two more seasons to aid it in its quest for the program’s fourth state championship.
Frederica Academy was coming off its own state title this past season, but the graduation of six college football players from a GISA program with tight numbers made the 2019-20 season a rebuilding one for a program that had gone 33-13 with three region championships over the previous four seasons under head coach Brandon Derrick.
An 0-2 start was easy to shake off for the Knights after seeing the same record lead to a title the season prior, but after losing just its fourth region game in its last 17 matchups and sitting at 2-3 on the year, Frederica was in search of a spark early against Westfield School.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Devlin took a snap out of the shotgun on the Knights’ side of the field and lofted a screen pass over the outstretched arms of a leaping incoming rusher to running back Deke Jernigan, who plucked the ball out of the sky with one hand before weaving his way down the field, going around and through various defenders on his way to the end zone.
“We had just come off the loss to Pinewood, and I want to say it was pretty close,” Derrick said. “I think we were maybe ahead 10-7, and then we ran that screen play, he caught it and broke two or three tackles, ran down the sidelines and scored the touchdown. At the same time, I think he got his helmet torn off for a personal foul penalty, and it kind of had everybody a little excited and motivated.
“As a program in the past couple of years, we haven’t had a ton of struggles, and for us to get out of it through that play was a pretty big deal.”
Frederica went on to beat Westfield 44-10, and it rode the momentum to a 48-28 win over Trinity Christian a week later.
Although the season was a bit of a step back for the Knights overall, Jernigan’s play was a lasting memory to his exploits on the football field — one of his last as the senior went on to sign a letter-of-intent to play baseball at Tallahassee Community College.
Glynn Academy feels it partially owes its playoff victory over Tucker to the momentum generated from a play in its regular-season finale against Bradwell Institute.
The Terrors were in the process of bouncing back from a three-game losing streak with three straight wins entering the postseason, leading the Tigers 30-0 with time ticking down in the first half.
Senior kicker Chase Gabriel had already set a program record, hitting on a pair of kicks from 52 yards, and another from 46, in the half, and with just a second remaining until halftime, he lined up for his fourth field goal attempt.
But instead, Gabriel sprinted to his right, caught a no look pass over the head of holder Bennett Colbert, and got around the edge to score a touchdown that’d ensure the second half would begin with a running clock.
“Were were in control of the game most of the game,” said Glynn Academy assistant Brett Hall. “We had just scored on the previous drive when we got the ball back, and to keep the momentum going, we went with what we call ‘LSU,’ which is LSU’s fake field goal or extra point play that they’ve used over the years.
“We looked at how they lined up against us on previous field goals or extra points, and we have a few different plays we can call if we see something they’re giving us. It just so happened that we looked like we could get it. We just really wanted to keep the momentum going right before halftime and demoralize the opponent a little bit, hopefully put another nail in the coffin per se.”
A favorite in the locker room, Gabriel was up for any assignment despite being on track to sign an LOI to kick at Florida International, and his touchdown fired up his fellow Terrors ahead of their playoff run.