Forty-eight years. Five hundred and sixteen games. Two hundred and eighty-six wins. Two trips to the semifinals of the state playoffs. Zero trips to the state title game.
The Coffee Trojans are headed to Mercedes Benz Stadium to play in the state championship game for the first time in school history. The Trojans earned a berth in the title game by upsetting the formidable Tucker Tigers 14-3 at Adams Stadium in Atlanta Friday night. The win sets up a re-match with region foe Lee County, which defeated Coffee 23-7 in Leesburg on Nov. 3.
The Trojans were limited Friday night – running back/linebacker Jameon Gaskin played but wasn’t himself after suffering an injury last week against Alpharetta. Marquavious Jefferson was limited to just his defensive duties because of a similar injury. That left the diminutive sophomore Antonio Dawson – who stands 5’2” and weighs all of 128 pounds -- to handle much of the running back duties against a big, physical Tucker defense. He played a solid game and scored the second of Coffee’s two touchdowns on the night.
Tucker came into the game as the favorite. The Trojans were on the road to the metro Atlanta area for the third straight week. Tucker was also the third consecutive #1 seed Coffee had faced during this post-season. The Trojans looked confident and unfazed by the magnitude of the moment.
Coffee struck first, capitalizing on a big miscue by the Tigers’ special teams unit. Tucker received the opening kick and mishandled the ball. The Trojans recovered deep in Tiger territory and made the most of the gift. They ran a couple of plays before quarterback Wade Sumner danced into the end zone from five yards out for a quick score. After a successful point-after, Coffee had a 7-0 lead just 1:15 into the game.
The two teams traded possessions until the very end of the second quarter. With just five seconds left in the first half, the Tigers capped 98-yard drive with a 26-yard field goal. The first half ended with Coffee leading 7-3.
The Trojans took the opening kick of the third quarter and wanted to put some more points on the board early on. That didn’t happen. The stingy Tiger defense forced a Coffee punt. Tucker took over on their own 29 yard line and began marching downfield. The drive stalled at the 17 yard line and the Tigers decided to try a field goal late in the third quarter. Coffee got a break when the kick missed the uprights. The Trojans took advantage of the opportunity and launched a methodical drive of their own. A big reception by Milton Jackson ate up a big chunk of real estate and put Coffee just outside of the red zone. Then Sumner found Dawson for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 9:43 left in the game. Another good extra point gave the Trojans a 14-3 lead.
The Tigers and the Trojans each punted on their next possessions. With a chance for a comeback slipping through their proverbial fingers, the Tigers had to score quickly on their third possession of the half. They started their drive at their own 17 and moved downfield. Then they went for a deep pass, one that looked as though it was going to be on target and give Tucker a new lease on its football life. Coffee’s Jarquavious Jefferson, however, had other plans. He intercepted the pass, likely saving the game in the process. The Trojans took over on their own nine yard line with just over four minutes remaining. From there it was keep the ball on the ground, get a few first downs, and run out the clock.
That’s exactly what Sumner and company did. The Trojans made it out of Atlanta with a 14-3 win and a chance to win a state championship. “That was awesome. It was a total team effort. Our defense was stellar tonight. And how about [Antonio Dawson]? These kids deserve it. They worked their butts off. They’ve been through so much adversity over the last few years. They’ve lost teammates, coaches. If I don’t win another state championship, the Good Lord has given me my share. I want it for these kids. They deserve it. The community deserves it. They’ve invested a lot in these kids,” said head coach Robby Pruitt after the game.
The 6A state title game will be played Friday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. DouglasNow.com will publish ticket information as soon as it’s available. There’s no word on what the school system has planned for next Friday; however, this writer has a sneaking suspicion there will be no school on game day. That information will also be published as soon as it’s released.
Coffee and Lee are 86 miles apart yet they will travel 220 miles to face each other in Atlanta. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, Coffee and Lee have played each other six times. Coffee is 4-2; however, Lee won the last meeting, which took place on Nov. 3 of this year with the region championship on the line.
Coffee won the turnover battle 3-1. In addition to recovering the fumble on the opening kick, Coffee’s Jordan Knight recovered a fumble then Jarquavious Jefferson made that crucial pick late in the game. A Tucker defender intercepted a pass intended for Raekwon Burch at the Coffee 12. Both the DB and Burch had the ball but the official call gave it to the Tucker player.
You can’t say enough about the Coffee defense. The whole squad played well. They pressured the quarterback all night long and made play after play after play. Even when Tucker had a little momentum, they found a way to make a key stop or tackle for a loss. Nobody had kept the Tigers out of the end zone all year. Until tonight.
Jameon Gaskin played but he was noticeably limited in what he could do. He couldn’t make any cuts and he lacked some of the spark that made him the region’s best running back all year. However, he did what he had to help the team win and he got several key first downs. Though Marquavious Jefferson couldn’t play on offense, he was all over the place on defense. He and his twin brother terrorized the Tucker receiving corps all night long.
Punter Jose Rodriguez played a key role in the win. The Trojans punted as much Friday as they have all year and Rodriguez backed up the Tigers all night long. Tucker never started a drive with very good field position and always had a long way to go to the end zone. Which they never found, by the way.
The Trojans improved to 10-3 on the season, just the sixth time in school history that a Coffee team has won 10 games. Former head coach Bonwell Royal won 10 or more games three times and Coach Pruitt has now done it three times.
The Georgia High School Football Historians Association contributed to this story.