The Augusta Christian Lions turned Pride Valley into Heart Attack Alley for the second straight week, as the Lions picked up a 17-14 overtime victory against Mount de Sales in the Georgia Independent School Association Class AAA state semifinals.
The win by Augusta Christian followed an OT thriller in the semifinals the previous week against Stratford Academy.
The latest victory, however, shook the GISA football establishment, as the Lions earned a berth in the state championship finals next Friday in Macon. Augusta Christian will face the winner of the Tattnall Square-Westfield contest.
"We've been underdogs in every game since we played Memorial Day (Oct. 9)," Augusta Christian coach Steve Price said. "Nobody picked us to win this game, but we didn't believe them. We don't feel like underdogs."
Mount de Sales came into the game as favorites, and the Cavaliers spent most of the first half living up to that billing. The Cavaliers rolled to 225 yard of offense in the first two quarters while holding Augusta Christian to only 65.
Even with those lopsided numbers, the Lions held the game close. A second quarter touchdown by Michael Walton put Mount de Sales up 7-0, but a blown coverage by AC allowed Walton to get free for a 38-yard touchdown pass with just four seconds on the clock in the second quarter.
"A lot of teams would have folded, but this team wouldn't," Price said. "We've been down a lot of times this season, and it just doesn't phase them."
With the Cavs' defense allowing no running room between the tackles, the Lions went to the air in the third quarter. AC quarterback Nathan Duffie got hot, connecting on five straight passes. The Lions received the second half kick and drove 60 yards in five plays, scoring on Duffie's 31-yard completion to Brett Newton.
The Augusta Christian defense held Mount de Sales on the ensuing series, and then Lions defensive end Robbie Poole blocked the subsequent punt to put AC in business at the Cavaliers 2-yard line. Brandon Colberg crashed into the end zone two plays later, then added the extra point to tie the game at 14-14.
The two teams jockeyed for position in the fourth, but neither could manage a score, as the game went into overtime; the GISA features an "Shootout" OT format, where each squad gets the ball at the 10 and has four chances to convert.
The Cavaliers had the first crack at the goal line, but AC's defense came up big, with linebacker Nick Wandless picking off a pass from Mount de Sales Nick Richardson.
The Lions then got their chance. After two short runs into the line, Price sent in Colberg for a 16-yard field goal attempt. Colberg had a potential game-winning field goal attempt blocked on the final play of regulation, but this time there would be no mistake: Colberg's kick was true, sending the Lions to the GISA state championship game.
"We were determined to come back in the second half," said Colberg, who was on defense in the first half when Walton burned AC for the late score. "That play was my fault. That was my man to cover and I didn't pick him up. I felt terrible, like I'd let the team down."
For Colberg, and the rest of the Lions, the only thing that mattered was the final score at Pride Valley, as Augusta Christian improved to 11-2, and kept its landmark season alive. One more win and the Lions will be state champions, but coach Price is hoping for a different finish next Friday in Macon.
"You guys have to promise me: no overtime next week. My heart can't take it any more," Price told his team on a night when scripture came to pass: In the GISA ranks in 1998, the formerly meek Augusta Christian Lions have inherited the Earth.
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