ATLANTA — Burke County’s style means being aggressive and physical. That style now translates to winning state championships.
The Bears responded after a slow start and reinforced their identity in the second half to win their first state title, 28-14, over Peach County in the Class AAA final Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Burke County ended the game on a 28-0 run, scoring 22 points in the second half.
“Our pep talk in the locker room, (coach Eric Parker) told us we would keep pounding them,” offensive lineman Malcolm Aldridge said. “First half we got beat, so second half, run the ball how we do it: Burke County style. Just run the ball, and eventually we’ll score. And we won, so that’s it.”
While the defense held the Trojans to only 17 yards in the second half, Burke County saw its offense become almost unstoppable in the final two quarters.
The Bears gained 193 of their 253 rushing yards in the second half, with Donquell Green finding cracks in the defense and space to the outside.
Green rushed for 117 yards with two touchdowns, with senior Corey Mayton adding 78 yards and two scores. The state champions rushed for four first downs in one six-play stretch, including Green’s 35-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle.
Burke County (14-1) rattled off two touchdowns drives in a row to take the lead for good at 21-14. After compiling only 60 rushing yards in the first half, the Bears had two separate drives of at least 77 yards in the third quarter, with all but three of the yards coming on the ground.
The game-clinching score then followed a bad Trojans punt. Beginning at the Peach County 35 following another stand by DaVonte Lambert, Derwin Butler and Co., the Bears sealed the win as Green’s speed helped him find the end zone again.
“We have good backs in the backfield,” senior offensive lineman Charles Petrea said. “All they have to do is follow and run through. And thank God they found it tonight.”
Burke County, playing for a state title for the first time since 1997, won its final 12 games of the season.
All but two triumphs were by double figures.
“We hadn’t been here in a long time,” Green said of reaching the state championship. “We wanted to be the first to do it.”
But for a half, it seemed the Bears might have to wait at least one more year.
Peach County quarterback Kentel Kendrick – with help from receiver Demarcus Robinson on a go-up-and-get-it throw – was solid for most of the opening two quarters, throwing for almost 100 yards.
With two running backs adding at least 30 yards on the ground, the Trojans (13-2) controlled time of possession and kept Burke County’s offense, which came into the game 45 points away from setting a state record for scoring in a season, off the field.
However, with a long pass play leading to one score and a Montres Kitchens interception in the end zone essentially ending the second quarter, the momentum started to turn as the Bears won the turnover battle, 3-0, and blanked the Trojans in the second half.
“We came in and we challenged them. We didn’t feel like the first half ... that wasn’t our football,” Burke County coach Eric Parker said. “We just came in and said if we’re going to win this thing, we’re going to step up and do what we do. ”
Following a punt on Burke County’s initial offensive possession of the third quarter, the Bears did just that.
Green and Mayton both scored twice on the ground, with Mayton powering his way in for his touchdowns.
When the team could finally exhale and enjoy a state championship, the players and coaches rushed the field, hugging each other and holding up the No. 1 in the postgame celebration.
Just one year after claiming a region championship, the Bears added the sought-after state championship to go with another region crown.
“Oh my God,” Kitchens said. “All the hard work paid off. Everything we have done this year, all the pain and suffering, it paid off,”