By Stephen Black
Sandy Creek left no doubt this time. After close, low-scoring affairs in their first two state championships in 2009 and 2010, the Patriots closed out the Class AAAA final today at the Georgia Dome in the first half in a 45-10 whitewashing of Ridgeland.
“We’re just ecstatic with what we’re doing,” said Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker. “To win a third state championship is just huge for us. Our guys, our community, everything involved. I just can’t say enough about them.
Sandy Creek’s senior class accomplished a lot in its four years at the Fayette County school that had not won a state title prior to its arrival. Now, the Patriots have a AAAA title to go along with the AAA titles they won previously.
“That senior class went 56-2,” said Walker. “That’s an unbelievable mark over four years and we’re gong to graduate a lot of people that were great football players who played in a bunch of games. We’re going to miss them a lot, but they’ve taken this program to a new height. Now we just gotta keep it there.”
Big plays by wide receivers Demarre Kitt and Kyle Wilson, quarterback Cole Garvin and running backs Delvin Weems and Eric Swinney on offense and a stifling defense staked Sandy Creek a 31-0 halftime lead. On the Patriots’ first drive of the game, Garvin hit Wilson on a 45-yard pass play down to the Ridgeland 19. Swinney then took it in from the six two plays later and the rout was on.
It was apparent then that Sandy Creek had a huge edge in a certain area.
“They were just beating our corners,” said Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis. “That’s a good football team. There’s a reason why they are who they are. We got ‘out-athleted’ on the corners and in space. It wasn’t anything special they were doing, they were just making plays.”
Ridgeland, on the other hand, could not get much going in the first half aside from a drive that ended on the Sandy Creek 22 after a Darrell Bridges run fell short on fourth down. Bridges had hit Vonn Bell on a halfback pass that got the Panthers down to the Patriots’ 29.
“That’s what we wanted to today,” said Walker. “We wanted to get on them. They’re a grind it out offense that can control the game if you let them, so we really wanted to jump on them quick so they had to get out of what their gameplan was. So for us to do that early was big for us.”
Ridgeland totaled just 108 yards in the first 24 minutes, 105 of them by Bridges. Sandy Creek had 281 at the half, 161 through the air by Garvin.
In the Patriots’ first two state championship wins (in 2009 and 2010), Sandy Creek won competitive games with Clarke Central and Carrollton. But tonight was a different story.
Wilson finished the game for the Patriots with 81 yards on two catches, while Kitt had six catches for 74 yards. The two sophomore running backs, Swinney and Weems, each had two touchdowns and rushed for a combined 156 yards (91 by Weems). Garvin threw for 236 yards and a score on 13 of 17 passing. Wilson’s 37-yard touchdown catch with 5:52 left in the third effectively ended the competition.
Walker was quick to give credit to his offensive line.
“We’ve got some great skill guys,” gushed Walker, in his eighth year coaching Sandy Creek. “Demarre and Kyle and the two running backs who are sophomores are unbelievable, but it all starts on that line of scrimmage. We lost four starters, but they stepped up and jelled and molded into a great offensive line.”
Ridgeland also loses a productive group of seniors, who helped set a school record for wins with 13 this season. The big-time college recruit Bell leaves the Rossville program presumably to play for a major college program next season. But he was in no mood to think past today.
“We were just blessed to be here,” said a tearful Bell after the game. “It was a hard-fought season. We’ve been underdogs all year long, so I’m just proud of these guys.”
He would give no hint as to his future plans, although it has been reported that he is considering Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee for college.
“I’m just trying to enjoy this moment with these guys. We’re one big family.”
His coach, however, wishes he could have four more years of Bell.
“I wish he was a freshman,” said Mariakis. “He’s been a special kid in our program like all of them have. He’s got a bright future at the next level somewhere.”
Sandy Creek, a program that began in 1992, now has three titles in four season. This may have been the most impressive, however, after a perfect 15-0 record in its first season in Class AAAA.