December 12, 2018

Epic Night at Staples: Braves overcome Canes to advance to first state title game

The Braves enter Staples Stadium Friday night (Photo: Debbie O’Neal/Times-Journal)

(Franklin, GA) — A never before experienced euphoria set in at Staples Stadium Friday night after the Heard County Braves defeated the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane 38-30 in a thrilling overtime battle to advance to the state championship game for the first time in school history.

Brave parents and fans stormed onto the field to celebrate the enormous win capped by an Aaron Beasley interception sealed the comeback win in the first overtime.

Beasley had a huge night scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard rush to open the Braves first offensive possession in OT.

The Braves very nearly lost the game at the end of regulation as a 46-yard Hurricane field goal attempt just clipped the upright and fell to the turf.

The Braves trailed 30-24 late in the game before a methodical 7:00 13-play drive tied the game up at 30-30. Beasley punched it in from three yards out to tie it but the go-ahead PAT attempt was wide right.

The Braves went for a two-point conversion after the first TD in overtime as Alijah Huzzie found LeQuincy Shepherd in the corner of the end zone. The conversion came from eight yards out after the first converted attempt (also a completed pass from Huzzie to Shepherd) was called back due to a penalty.

It was a sensational game from start to finish that featured four ties and five lead changes as both teams battled tooth and nail for a shot to reach Mercedes Benz.

The 12th win of the season ties a school record from 2017 and the win was also the team’s 11th in a row tying a school record from 2017, 2012, and 2006.

The Braves (12-2) will now meet undefeated Rockmart (14-0) for the Class AA State Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Wednesday, December 12 at 1:00 PM.

Heard County superintendent Rodney Kay announced immediately after the game that all Heard County schools will be closed for the day so everyone can attend the historical event.

Brave head coach Tim Barron was very pleased with the fight shown by his team in the epic battle against a strong Hurricane squad that had reached the state semifinals four of the last five seasons.

“We knew coming into it how tough and physical that bunch was. We knew no matter how hard we were going to hit and how physical we were going to be, they were going to be giving it right back to us all night, and they did,” Barron said after the game.

“But the thing that I’m so proud of our kids for is just being so resilient. If something happened or we just gave up something, we just reset. We just moved on to the next play. That one’s gone, so let’s go on and make plays. They just continued to do that. They could’ve put their heads down and thought it’s over and it’s done, but they just kept battling and fighting. I’m just so proud of the courage they showed tonight.”

Coach Tim Barron talks to his team after the huge semifinal win over Fitzgerald (Photo: Gradick Communications)

Seniors Aaron Beasley and Alijah Huzzie both had terrific nights offensively. Beasley rushed for a season high 260 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries while Huzzie rushed for 135 yards and two TD’s on just 12 attempts and scrambles.

Huzzie completed 2-point conversion passes to both Shepherd and Micaiah Austin.

The Braves tallied an impressive 492 yards of total offense while the defense held a very potent Fitz attack to 317 yards.

Just after the game, the first person Barron wanted to talk to was Beasley.

“I had to go get Beasley by myself when the game was over,” Barron said. “In last year’s semifinal loss to Hapeville, he turned the ball over late. It was a quarterback exchange, but he took it personally. Obviously, me going for it on fourth-and-two and not getting it, I took it personally as well — so, I just wanted to take a few minutes with him and say how proud I am of him to bounce back and to win this one tonight the way we did.”

The Braves will be looking for more redemption as they do battle versus a Rockmart team that has outscored them 75-0 over the last six quarters played including a 33-0 win early this season that was called at the half due to weather and a 42-0 first round playoff loss in 2016.

Both of those games took place at Rockmart and this meeting will be at the neutral city stadium — the same stadium where both the MLS Cup and the Super Bowl will be hosted in the coming weeks.

Rockmart defeated Callaway 28-22 in the other Class AA semifinal Friday night.

“Obviously we’re a better football team than we were in week three, but Rockmart is going to be a better football team than they were in week three,” says Coach Barron. “They’re extremely explosive, extremely well-coached and very, very athletic. Obviously we’ll be big-time underdogs. There’s no doubt they’re a super good football team, and we’ll find out if we’ve closed that gap enough.”

The longtime coach was elated that his team did not suffer another heart-breaking home playoff loss at Staples. The Braves had lost three heart-crushing games in the final seconds over the last six years and it looked like that might be the case once again until the Fitz field goal bounced off of the upright.

“As we were watching Fitzgerald trying for that game-winning field goal I was just thinking to myself — not again, not again. I was doing a lot of praying on the sidelines — not for the W but for strength and courage for my kids,” said the visibly emotional head coach.

Tickets for the State Championship at Mercedes-Benz at 1:00 PM on December 12 will be available for presale at the school next week for $22 each or at the Benz for $29.50 each. The ticket also includes admission to three other state title games taking place that same day.

Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com for further information in the coming days.

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