Published Saturday, October 13, 2012
From STAFF REPORTS
MACON — In a year of much-higher expectations, it didn’t matter much to Trinity Christian that it had pushed Stratford Academy — last year’s Class AAA state-runner up — to the limit on its home field Friday night.
A 22-16 loss felt like a missed opportunity for a Lions team that proved again that last year was well in the rear-view mirror.
Trinity Christian was on its way to a potential upset victory on the road while leading 9-7 at halftime and 16-7 after three quarters before putting together a final drive with just under five minutes left that ended inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line.
That’s when Stratford defensive back Greer Smith picked off a pass at his own 3-yard line to hold on to a victory in both team’s Region 2-AAA opener while handing the Lions a heartbreaker.
“I’m proud of our boys. We played hard and did some good things,” Trinity Christian head coach Chris Hanson said. “This is just a tough loss. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently at the end. I would have made the same call.”
Trinity Christian fell to 3-3 overall and 0-1 in region play. Stratford improved to 4-2 and 1-0.
A year after falling 62-28 at home to Stratford, two touchdown catches and an interception by Dee Snelling nearly helped give Trinity Christian what would have been its most compelling GISA victory to date.
The Lions took advantage of Eagles mistakes in the first half to take early momentum that carried Trinity through most of the game.
“We dodged a bullet,” Stratford head coach Rodney Collins told Brad Harrison of the Macon Telegraph. “We were playing with fire all night.”
A botched punt snap gave the Lions a 2-0 lead before Snelling added the first of his two scores to keep Trinity ahead 9-7 at halftime.
The Lions defense forced three Stratford turnovers including a 55-yard interception return by Snelling off the Eagles’ opening drive. Trinity Christian held Stratford to 39 yards rushing in the first half and limited top running back Austin Simmons to 13 in the opening two quarters.
It was another major sign of improvement for Trinity’s defense, which held Stratford’s top-two runners to 139 yards on 24 carries. Eagle quarterback John Mitchell was 7 of 11 passing, but was limited to just 45 yards and Snelling’s interception.
The defense then forced another fumble on Stratford’s first offensive snap of the second half, recovered by Drew Gibson. Trinity capitalized by scoring two plays later on another touchdown catch by Snelling to go ahead 16-7.
Senior running back Jay Warner finished with 85 yards rushing in the loss.
“We’ve jut got to find a way to do the little things,” Hanson said. “It’s just hard to see it end like that because our boys fought hard.”