ATLANTA — It came down to a matter of inches. Maybe even an inch.
With the game tied early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class AAA state championship game, Cairo opted to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Flowery Branch 24.
Ronnie Wooten got the carry, and when the bodies were unpiled, the ball lay on the 21.
The chains were called out for measurement, and the result was Syrupmaker first down. Saying Cairo got it by the nose of the ball doesn’t fully explain how close it was.
Two plays later, the Syrupmakers scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Angelo Pease to James Wilcox, putting Cairo ahead 21-14.
Prior to the pivotal first-down run, Wooten appeared to shift in his stance illegally. But Lee Shaw hesitated to single out the play or the absence of a flag.
“We thought their back was moving, and it wasn’t called,” Shaw said. “That’s kind of how football goes. We’re not going to make any excuses, you know. We haven’t made any excuses all year. We certainly had some other opportunities, but that was a huge momentum swing right there.”
The tale of the first half Saturday was told through big drives.
The Falcons opened the game with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that ate close to seven minutes off the clock, but ended with only three points after stalling inside the 5-yard line.
Flowery Branch added another field goal while turning back Cairo on back-to-back possessions.
But after a Jonathan Shine interception gave the Syrupmakers possession on their own 3-yard line, Cairo came back to take the lead with a monster drive of its own.
Moving 97 yards in 15 plays, the Syrupmakers chewed up most of the remaining six minutes in the second quarter and took the lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Pease to Dewayne Isom on third-and-seven. It was the third third-down conversion of the drive for Cairo. Pease accounted for the final 60 yards of the possession, completing five of his seven passes along the way.
Both offenses showcased their explosiveness in the third quarter.
Cairo took an 8-point lead midway through the period when Reginald Bryant broke loose on a 78-yard touchdown sprint.
Keeping pace, Flowery Branch went deep on the first play of its ensuing possession, as Connor Shaw hit senior Chris Lipscomb on a deep route for a 72-yard catch and run. The Falcons then tied it on a 2-point conversion pass from Shaw to Rod Frazier.
The Falcons’ 12 wins in 2008 marks a school record. It was the first time in the school’s seven-season history a team had advanced beyond the quarterfinals of the playoffs, and the first appearance for a Hall County team in a GHSA state championship game since Gainesville fell to Bainbridge, 7-6, in 1982. No Hall-based team as ever won a GHSA football state title.
The Falcons senior class finished its four-year run with a record of 42-9.