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We honor 36 deserving Student athletes as the Plauer of the Year in their chosen Sport
Written by John Dupont
Photo courtesy of Andrea Heflin
Pierce County High School won its first-ever state football championship in 2020, an
achievement described then by many as a “surreal” experience. Now the Bear Nation is talking
with similar incredulity, this after PCHS beat Rockmart 48-45 in triple overtime for the Class
AA crown. It happened December 12 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the celebration
continues in the wake of the program’s second state title in four seasons.
“This year was like having a genie in the bottle; a lot of my dreams came true,” said PCHS head
coach Ryan Herring, whose Bears finished an all-time best 14-1. “I don’t know a more blessed or
favored coach in America.”
Ranking as one of the longest football title games in GHSA history, the 2023 title tilt sparked
comparisons to the 2020 classic, when PCHS won the Class AAA title in the shortest overtime in
“I can honestly say that I have never seen a better football game in my life,” said Dr. Robin
Hines, Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association. “It was incredible.”
Longtime Bears fan Jacob O’Neal added: “This game had me on the edge of my seat for the
entire game. The anxiety and excitement were so high.”
Tied 28-all through regulation play, Pierce County never trailed through the first four quarters.
Rockmart took its initial lead in the first overtime, 35-28, on a four-yard run by Brent
Washington. PCHS then tied the game at 35-all on quarterback Cadence McGatha’s third
touchdown run of the game. The Bears then surged ahead, 42-35 on Carson Sloan’s third TD of
the game before Rockmart tied the game again, this time on a one-yard plunge by Washington.
The Yellow Jackets subsequently settled for a 28-yard field goal by Jose Alegria on the first
possession of the third overtime.
“When Rockmart had to settle for a field goal, I just knew in my heart we were fixing to win it,”
McGatha seemingly scored the game winner moments later, stretching to the corner pylon in
what was initially ruled a touchdown. However, the would-be clincher was reversed following an
instant replay review, thus delaying the celebration momentarily.
“Our efficiency inside the 15 is probably as good as anyone in the state,” Herring said. “It just
gave our kids a spark in their eyes and in their body language. You could sense it and feel it.”
Following the reversal, PCHS had the ball first-and-goal at the one-yard line. McGatha then took
the snap and plowed into the endzone for the championship-clinching touchdown. It was
McGatha’s 53rd carry of the game, setting a state finals record.
“They were blitzing everybody and I knew we had to stay calm and not turn the ball over,” said
McGatha, who rushed for 244 total yards and four touchdowns in the game. “It was a lot of pile
and push and we just knew we had to push it across the goal line.”
Sloan, who scored two of his three touchdowns on receptions from McGatha, including a 66-
yarder in the third quarter, also rang up 3.5 sacks on defense. Afterward, Sloan noted the Bears’
confidence as an x-factor.
“Every time we’d score and then get them third-and-long, I’d have hope, but then they’d score,”
said Sloan. “In the third OT when they kicked the field goal, I felt like they gave up. If you don’t
have enough confidence in your offense, you are giving up.”
“Our confidence came from summer and off-season workouts, working six days a week, and
from the love that we all have for each other,” added McGatha. “There’s a lot of recognition that
Sloan and I get, but to us it’s all about the team, from the younger guys that give us looks at
practice, all the way up to the coaches. We couldn’t do any of that without them.”
The title victory gave Coach Herring his 60th win in Bearville, making him the winningest
football coach in county history. The win also established this senior class as the winningest
four-year group in PCHS history (49-7 overall).
“I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I haven’t coached on 24 state championship teams; I’ve
only coached on two but both of them were here,” said Herring. “A lot of times it’s not who you
are, it's where you are and we’re at a special place. We have a special group of guys here, but
they would kill me if I didn’t let you know there are three things that are important in
Blackshear: that’s Jesus, family, and football. And we’re going to give God all the glory.”
Written by Kevin Price
Photo courtesy of Dwayne Culpepper
“Can we get the trophy?”
Coffee head coach Mike Coe asked that question following the state championship trophy presentation after the triumph by the Trojans in the Class AAAAA title game which they won over Creekside, 31-14, on Dec. 13 in Atlanta.
The head coach of the winning team usually gets the trophy at the top of the presentation prior to a question by the Georgia High School Association’s lead official and additional questions by the on-air personality from Georgia Public Broadcasting which televises the championship games each season.
Perhaps GHSA executive director Robin Hines was so excited for the Trojans and their large fan base in the stands at Mercedes Benz Stadium that he forgot to present them with the championship trophy before the questions for the coach.
So when the interview was done and the Trojans gathered on the podium were about to exit the stage, Coe asked for the trophy which the sponsors of the award gladly handed over to the head coach.
Coe did indeed get to raise it high for all to see, which was met with a thunderous applause and cheers from the big Coffee crowd in the building.
At long last, the Trojans indeed had their hands on a trophy they had coveted but hadn’t won. This 2023 state championship was the first-ever for the Trojans and it came in a perfect 15-0 season when the team conquered all others on the way to the top of its class.
Coffee High opened in 1970 in Douglas, but the previous school and team, the Coffee County Comets, had played since 1955 without winning a championship.
The contributors to this championship run were aplenty, of course. But no one meant more to this team than senior running back Fred Brown who carried the ball the season long with punishing force while ultimately carrying this Coffee team into the school’s history books.
The big bull-of-a-running back rushed for 2,471 yards including 166 on 35 attempts in the state championship which set a new single-season record for the school. The day after the title game, 912 Sports named Brown its Offensive Player of the Year during its annual postseason awards show.
Other major players for the team included offensive lineman Jerzabion Grant, defensive lineman Elgie Paulk, linebacker Jyarius Carter and defensive backs Tyriq Edwards and Anthony Paulk. All five players joined Brown on this year’s All-912 Sports Team which was announced on the awards show as well.
Of course, Coe deserves a lot of the credit, too. A coach who is no stranger to winning state titles - he won four as a head coach in Florida - guided the Trojans to the mountain top in just his second season with the team.
Coe, who shared 912 Sports Coach of the Year honors with Pierce County’s Ryan Herring who led his team to a second state championship in four seasons, took the solid Coffee team he inherited to a 10-3 record and a state quarterfinal appearance in his first year with the program.
This fall, the Trojans were impressive from start to finish. They inherited the No. 1 ranking five games into the season and never gave it up while winning their last 10 as the top-ranked team in the state.
The Trojans defeated rival and fifth-ranked Ware County 28-5 in Waycross in early November to complete a perfect regular season while claiming the Region 1-AAAAA championship.
In the playoffs, they easily dispatched their first three opponents - Chamblee (56-0), Jones County (45-14) and Cass (30-0) - before winning at fourth-ranked Cartersville 33-18 in the semifinals to earn their place in the title game.
Creekside came into the state final ranked No. 2 in the state. The Trojans jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and were well on their way to championship glory when the second half kicked off.
Coffee held Creekside to 67 rushing yards, 200 below its average, in the title game. This dominating performance was nothing new, though, for the Coffee stop-em unit which never allowed more than 18 points in a single game and gave up only 6.7 per contest, the least in any GHSA classification in 2023.
For the season, the Trojans won their games by an average of 32.2 points.
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