Published Sunday, November 18, 2012
By DOUG GORMAN
CONYERS — The Heritage Christian School’s hopes of bringing a Independent Schools of Georgia and Alabama 8-man football title home to Sharpsburg ended Saturday afternoon with a 38-28 loss to rival Ballard Christian of Auburn, Ala.
It was Ballard’s first win over the Crusaders in the last three tries, having dominated the rivalry for the majority of six seasons. Heritage Christian won this year’s regular-season meeting between respective ICSGA division champions, 34-16.
But this time Ballard found a way to keep the Crusaders’ normally high-octane offense in check Saturday afternoon at a neutral site at Young Americans, by forcing some key turnovers and making fourth-down stops.
The loss spoiled another solid effort from junior J.D. Farlow who finished with 187 yards and three touchdowns after entering the championship game with over 2,200 yards rushing. Senior teammate Austin Reeves ended his high-school career with 101 yards during a 1,000-yard season of his own.
Heritage Christian (10-2) found itself in the unusual spot of having to play catch up after falling behind 16-0 early in the first quarter.
“We made some turnovers,” Crusaders head coach Al Williams said. “We had some trouble tackling, and those are things we normally don’t do.”
Ballard (11-2) took control of the game paced by Jarrett Scott, who was the catalyst for his team throughout the contest, by coming up with big plays on both sides of the ball en route to earning MVP honors.
The Eagles took the opening kickoff 65 yards in 14 plays, twice converting on fourth downs in the series including one on a 13-yard reception by Dalton Starlon.
Heritage Christian was unable to answer back after Ballard forced the first turnover of the game.
Ballard then took advantage of the field postion and cruised into the end zone, again converting on fourth down when Baylor Nichols caught a long pass.
Two plays later, the Eagles were back in the end zone on Braxton Nelson’s 3-yard run. After converting its second 2-point conversion of the game, Ballard led 16-0.
Midway through the second quarter, the Crusaders showed signs of life, putting together their first decent drive of the game.
The Crusaders cut the gap to 16-8 when freshman quarterback Jared Farlow connected his older brother, J.D., on a 13-yard pass with 8:24 left.
Heritage appeared back in business late in the quarter when Farlow intercepted a pass to stop a Ballard drive. The younger Farlow came on midseason to start at quarterback for injured senior Dutch Williams, who was lost for the season.
Neither team was able to produce on their next two drives, but Heritage suffered a crushing blow right at the end of the half.
With Heritage lined up in punt formation, Tyler Smith boomed the ball deep in Ballard territory.
The Crusaders appeared to fall on the ball in the end zone after it bounced off the outstretched arms of a Ballard returners for a touchdown after Reeves recovered it, but the officiating crew ruled it was a touchback.
From there Ballard ran out the clock.
Down at halftime, the Crusaders struggled to find any momentum when Ballard’s Scott recovered the second half kickoff.
Two plays later, the Eagle standout scored on a short run to help Ballard increase its lead to 24-8.
J.D. Farlow, however, helped bring the Crusaders right back with a couple of long runs on the next series. He scored on a 32-yard scamper, but the two point conversion failed as Ballard clung to a 24-14 lead.
From there the game turned into a shootout as Ballard came right back down and scored on its next position as Nelson hauled in a 4-yard pass. Although the Eagles missed the 2-point conversion, they had a two-score lead, ahead 30-14.
Reeves’ 22-yard touchdown run with 5:16 left in the game helped cut the lead to 30-20.
Yet Ballard answered back with one more score as Nelson scored on a 2-yard run as well as the ensuing 2-point conversion to make it 38-20.
The Crusaders added one more touchdown when Austin Reeves scored on a 17-yard run and Tyler Smith added caught the 2-point conversion.
It was the second time in a three-year span that a school from Coweta County reached the finals. Trinity Christian went undefeated en route to the 2010 championship before making the jump to 11-man football in the GISA.
Williams hopes the team can build on this year’s success, which came after an 8-win season in 2011.
“We are starting to get a lot more interest in the program,” he said. “Some of these kids were here when we were just starting out and now we are to the point were I think we can be back here again.”
ICGSA 8-MAN CHAMPIONSHIP – Ballard Christian 38, Heritage Christian 28
At Young Americans, Conyers
Ballard Christian 16 0 14 8 — 38
Heritage Christian 0 8 12 8 — 28
B — Jarrett Nelson pass to Dalton Starlin (Braxton Nelson pass)
B — Nelson 3 run (Baylor Nichols pass)
H — Jared Farlow 13 pass to J.D. Farlow (Farlow run)
B — Nelson 2 run (Nelson catch)
H — J.D. Farlow 32 run (run failed)
B — Nelson 4 run (run failed)
H — J.D. Farlow 22 run (run failed)
B — Nelson 2 run (Nelson run)
H — Reeves 17 run (Tyler Smith catch)