Prep Football: Trinity Christian earns wild region win

Georgia-Florida wasn't the only football game Saturday where turnovers played a major factor in changing the course of division standings.
And Trinity Christian junior Daniel Shoates played the role of Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones to the letter in a 33-14 victory over Mount de Sales at East Coweta Middle School's McKnight Field on Saturday.
The Lions offense netted 47 total yards in the final two quarters but had 19 points to show for it in a wild finish between a pair of Region 2-AAA lineups in the GISA that went in opposite directions in the state playoff race.
Two weeks ago while coming on at quarterback, Shoates was on the wrong end of a fourth quarter interception that ended a 21-16 loss at Stratford while driving for a potential winning score. But on Saturday, he was in the right place at the right time again and again in final two quarters on a series of heads-up plays that helped swing the game in Trinity Christian's favor.
In all, the three Mount de Sales turnovers in the second half — among five by the Cavaliers after going to the break tied at 14 — directly led to all of Trinity Christian's final 19-point outburst while also shutting out the Macon school in the final 24 minutes of play.

From his safety position in Trinity's defense, Shoates returned a goal-line fumble by the Cavaliers that led to a Lions touchdown, tipped a ball that went for a 85-yard interception return for another Trinity score and then picked off a Mount de Sales pass of his own that set up yet one more scoring run from the 1-yard line to turn a nip-and-tuck game into a rout.

Shoates looked to have crossed the goal line after racing 25 yards on his interception with under three minutes to play and had to settle for fellow quarterback Connor Adams scoring on a bootleg two plays later to put the final dagger in Mount de Sales' hopes.

It didn't seem to matter to him, however.

"It's a team game," he said, smiling. "I'm just glad we won."

But it wasn't easy — and the game left Trinity Christian head coach Chris Hanson other illustrative adjectives to describe a wild finish.

"That was a sloberknocker right there. It sure wasn't pretty," said Hanson, who predicted a Steelers-Ravens NFL-type war. "We made a bunch of mistakes and we were able to take what they gave us. I said before the game it was going to be physical and it was going to come down to the team that did the little things and made the least mistakes. That's a good football team over there. We've just got to take this and move on to the next opportunity."

Both Trinity Christian (5-3, 2-1) and Mount de Sales (2-6, 1-2) are still in contention for playoff berths. But the win left just two teams — the Lions and Stratford — chasing The Heritage School for first place. The undefeated Hawks and Lions meet in two weeks to close the season.

As for Friday, the physical showdown that Hanson predicted last week came to fruition with the Cavaliers defensive line led by massive tackle Jeremiah Cotton and company pushing the Lions backwards on five of its eight offensive snaps of the third quarter for a net of zero yards.

Neither offense could budge an inch during a third quarter that featured just one first down from each team through eight minutes. The Cavaliers coughed the ball up twice on recoveries by Trinity defenders Landon Comeans and Christian Salvanera before looking to catch a break in field position.

Mount de Sales opened the fourth quarter on the Trinity 29-yard line after a Lions punt from their own end zone kept the ball on its end and within four plays had the ball to the goal-line following a 12-yard run by Alex Sands.

On the following snap, however, the ball came loose again, this time finding Shoates' open arms for a 53-yard return into Mount de Sales territory.

"It just bounced into my hands," Shoates said. "I just took off."

Given new life, Trinity Christian put together a 46-yard drive on six plays led by Adams' 23-yard scamper to the Cavaliers 6. On the following play the quarterback found sophomore Glen Whisby just in time in the corner of the end zone for a 21-14 lead after Cody Houser's point-after.

Mount de Sales nearly countered again, led by a big kickoff return to midfield and an ensuing nine-play drive when Adams made an open-field tackle of Aubrey Evins for a four-yard loss. Forced to throw on fourth-and-9, quarterback Ryan McCallie threw into double coverage only to see Shoates bat it out of the air toward teammate Dee Snelling.

Snelling, whose fumbled punt return in the first half led to one of Mount de Sales' two scores before halftime, got the points back by darting in and out of traffic 85 yards the other way before eventually finding open field around the Cavaliers 30-yard line for a touchdown to make it 27-14 Trinity with 3:11 remaining.

The Lions can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win at Westminster of Augusta, the only remaining winless team in 2-AAA at 0-3.

"We'll go back to work and try to fix those mistakes before Westminster," Hanson said. "They opened the year strong so we're not going to count them out by any means."

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