‘Divine Intervention’ Relive the 2018 Bainbridge State Championship football season in its five-year anniversary
Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023
1 Hurricane, 2 games against Warner Robins, 3 overtimes, 4 touchdowns up, 5 top-ten playoff opponents. You can count on one hand the reasons Bainbridge should have won the state championship in 2018 — you’d need all hands on deck to count the reasons they shouldn’t have.
Five years ago, The Bainbridge Bearcat football team was crowned State Champions. The Bearcats beat the Warner Robins Demons 47-41 in triple overtime to take home the title and cap off an adversity-filled year. A hurricane destroyed the city of Bainbridge halfway through the season, and a few weeks later, a player’s mother suddenly passed away.
“That season was divine intervention,” said Powell Cobb, the sports reporter at the Bainbridge newspaper, the Post-Searchlight, during that year. “It was a blessing from god for everything we had gone through.”
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Georgia High School Football Daily, the most reputable amateur football outlet in Georgia, ranked the 2018 championship game as the greatest final in Georgia football history. The matchup is the only championship game to reach three overtimes, and it saw the Demons make a record-tying 28-point comeback before falling in the end.
But 2018 didn’t start like a state championship season.
The team was young. It had a promising class of sophomores and key senior leaders, but they lacked widespread experience, according to Bearcats’ Head Coach Jeff Littleton.
“It was a deal where we had a sophomore class that was pushing seniors and juniors for playing time,” Littleton said. “That was kind of a learning curve.”
On top of that, they were still figuring out who to play quarterback when the season started. The team had two options: Sophomore Quade Hawkins or junior Jackson Wheeler.
“When you’re trying to figure out who pulls the trigger,” Littleton said. “If one don’t stand out, you’re going to go through a little battle, and it may take a couple weeks to figure out… Eventually, we just had to decide on one guy.”
Hawkins eventually got the nod as the starter after a four-week quarterback battle. He said that he and Wheeler were being subbed in and out every other drive in some games, anything for the coaching staff to get a better read on who they wanted their guy to be.
After week four, the sophomore quarterback took the reins of a 2-2 Bearcat team. They opened the season with consecutive wins against Seminole County High School and Cairo High School, then lost to Lincoln High School and Brooks County High School.
The Bearcats welcomed Crisp County to Centennial Field in week five for Hawkins’ first game as QB1— one he probably wants to forget. Bainbridge lost 23-0, and Hawkins threw five interceptions in the loss.
“It was pretty bad,” Hawkins said candidly.
Now on a 3-game losing streak, the future state champions endured another home loss in week six. The Bearcats fell to Tift County High School 31-14, bringing their record to 2-4.
“Everybody was unhappy,” Cobb said. “Littleton, you could see in his face he was so unhappy. The players were just so unhappy. You could tell they knew they were better than that. The players knew they were better than that. The parents and the fans knew they were better than that. They just got in this little funk.”
Littleton called a meeting with the seniors on the team after the Tift game.
“You have a lot of talent,” Littleton said to the seniors. “‘You’ve just got to keep plugging and plugging and getting better every day. We’ve played some tough competition. We’ve had a lot of injuries….’ We just had a really great attitude about it, we didn’t get down or anything.”
Things started to look up in week seven. The Bearcats began region play and had a matchup against Veterans High School. The Warhawks were undefeated going into the game, but the Bearcats proved too much to overcome. Bainbridge got their first win in over a month with a 27-14 victory.
Then disaster struck.
On October 10th, 2018, five days after the Veterans win, Hurricane Michael barreled into Bainbridge. The category-3 storm brought 115 mph winds and storm surge flooding that ruined Bainbridge.
It was the strongest hurricane to ever hit Bainbridge, leaving the city in a state of repair that seemed as if it would last for the foreseeable future.
“There were just trees everywhere,” Hawkins said. “You couldn’t get by anywhere because power lines were down. Me and my dad went riding through town and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ This is the stuff you see on the news, like, you don’t see this in the small town of Bainbridge.”
The storm caused a 100% power outage that lasted for a week in the city and longer for residents outside it. Trees had been uprooted and thrown onto roads and through houses. Structures suffered critical damage, and almost every building needed some form of repair. George McMillan, a Bainbridge Public Safety member, described the city as a “war zone.”
“We had trucks from the federal government coming through every day delivering stuff and helping,” Cobb said. “Even during that, the team kept practicing.”
Roman Harrison, a senior defensive lineman for the Bearcats (now a defensive lineman for the University of Tennessee), said the hurricane acted as a unifying force for the team.
“We really had to rely on each other for strength,” Harrison said. “That really brought us together.”
Michael hit Bainbridge on a Wednesday of an off week for the football team. Littleton said he was unable to contact his players for the rest of that week but was able to get a practice together for the following Monday.
“We probably had half of our kids stuck at home because of trees in their driveway,” Littleton said. “We tried to find ways to get them here to, you know, to get them away from all that stuff.”
The team held practices every day that week for anyone who could make it. Littleton said practice served as a distraction for the players, as well as a way to access food and running water.
“It got their minds off of it,” Littleton said. “We fed them here. They took showers here, you know, we just had a lot of bonding time… The kids had great attitudes, and they really were ready to get out of the house and get up here.”
It was important that the Bearcats were able to get back to practice in the aftermath of the hurricane. They were scheduled to face their toughest opponent of the season, Warner Robins, in week eight.
The Demons were led by senior quarterback Dylan Fromm — the younger brother of UGA standout and former NFL quarterback Jake Fromm — and were scoring more than 40 points a game.
There were conversations about getting the game rescheduled, according to Littleton, but nothing ever materialized. Macon, where Warner Robins is located, was unaffected by the hurricane, and they did not need to postpone the competition. The Bearcats had two options: Travel to Macon and play Warner Robins, or stay in Bainbridge and forfeit the match.
They decided to play and brought a team that resembled most of the city— patched up.
“We had starters out that week for obvious reasons,” Littleton said. “So, we get on the bus and go to Warner Robins.”
The Bearcats lost 38-0. Littleton said he felt good about the practice they had that week, but the impact of the hurricane proved too much for the players
“We got our ass kicked,” Cobb said. “By the fourth quarter, they had the fourth string in, and they were just playing with their food at that point.”
Cobb said the players got together after the Warner Robins loss to regroup and refocus.
“We’re not going to let ourselves fall apart like this,” the players said, according to Cobb. “We’re not going to let this hurricane bring us down. We’re not going to let whatever problems we have ruin our season. We’re going to come back and win every other game.”
In week nine, they played Harris County High School at home for a much-needed bounce-back win. The Bearcats shut the Tigers out in a 49-0 win.
“That’s when we got everyone back,” Littleton said. “We started rolling.”
In the next week, unexpectedly, tragedy struck the team for the second time that season.
Sophomore running back Caleb McDowell lost his mother, LaTorya Conner, three days after the win over Harris County. Conner passed away on October 29th, 2018, at the age of 35.
“Everybody was just in shock,” Hawkins said. “Seeing one of my friends go through that, it hurt me.”
Hawkins and McDowell were close and had played football together since the age of five. Hawkins said he remembers his father taking them to a Florida State football game together after their peewee football game that morning.
“He was literally one of my brothers growing up,” Hawkins said. “The whole team came together… That was a little more to play for.”
McDowell’s mother passed on a Monday, and the Bearcats were scheduled to play Thomas County Central that Friday. The matchup against the Yellow Jackets was their last game of the season, and a win would get them to the playoffs as a two-seed.
With the weight of grief on his shoulders, McDowell chose to play in the regular season finale.
“He decided that he wanted to play for her,” Littleton said.
The Bearcats beat Thomas County Central 44-11. McDowell led the team with 71 rushing yards, breaking off a 56-yard touchdown he dedicated to his mother.
“I know she’s always in my heart,” McDowell said. “She fights for us and my brothers, too, every time we step out on the field.”
Littleton said the team was finally getting everybody back from injury after the Thomas County Central game, and the young players were starting to find their groove in new positions.
“That was the accumulation of us starting to roll,” Littleton said. “We were peaking, but we weren’t nowhere near our peak.”
With a 5-5 record, Bainbridge punched their ticket into the playoffs. The Bearcats started to prepare the next day for their first-round matchup against Jones County. The Greyhounds were the 7th-ranked Class 5A team in the state, and they traveled to Bainbridge for the playoff opener.
“They come in expecting to beat us,” Littleton said. “We knew not to take anyone for granted.”
Jones County struck first with a 45-yard touchdown pass following an unsuccessful opening drive from the Bearcats. The Greyhounds jumped to a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but Bainbridge fought back. They outscored Jones County 21-3 through the rest of the half.
“The second half, we got everything straight, and we just rolled,” Littleton said.
The Bearcats shut the Greyhounds out in the second half and tacked on 19 more points, bringing the final score to 40-13.
“I actually thought we were going to have a harder time with that,” Harrison said.
The win over Jones County marked the last time Bainbridge would play at home for the rest of the season. The team and fans traveled more than 1800 miles round-trip for playoff games through the end of the season.
“Our community, we traveled,” said Leah Hawkins, Quade Hawkins’ mother. “We went every single time because we were so excited.”
The Bearcats traveled to Wayne County High School for their second-round playoff game. The No. 9 state-ranked Yellow Jackets were undefeated on the season.
“They were a very good football team,” Littleton said. “Very well coached.”
The game was a back-and-forth defensive battle. The Bearcats forced six turnovers in the game, and McDowell led the team with two interceptions— one for a touchdown. The 2-way player also scored a 77-yard rushing touchdown with seven minutes left to put the Bearcats up by two scores.
Wayne County tried to mount a comeback and closed the lead to seven points, but an interception by freshman cornerback Deyon Bouie with a minute left sealed the win for Bainbridge.
“It was just surreal,” Cobb said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Okay, well, we’ve won two playoff games. Let’s just see if we can keep this going.’”
That would prove to be a tall task, given their next opponent. The Bearcats were scheduled to face Buford High School in the third round.
“That Monday, we had found out we were going to play Buford,” Hawkins said. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh crap.’”
Buford was a high school football powerhouse in 2018. The No. 5 state-ranked Wolves won the state championship six times in the 10 previous seasons — and finished runners-up in three of the four years they didn’t win it all.
“You don’t just go out there and play the team,” Cobb said. “You have to play the legend and the mythology of Buford… you’re up against their history.”
Littleton knew the reaction to the matchup would be fear. He knew Buford’s prominence and understood how his team from small town Bainbridge would feel having to prepare for big bad Wolves.
“Buford is like the Giant,” Leah Hawkins said. “We’re like David.”
To eliminate the distraction of Buford’s legacy, Littleton declared a team-wide rule: The team would be referred to as “the Green Team” from then on. No one was allowed to say the word Buford for the entire week.
“[Buford] has done this, this, this, and this,” Littleton said to the team that Monday. “But we don’t care. Don’t look at that. Don’t read the paper. Don’t see how good they are- so are we. We’re good too. They’re going to be called the Green Team, and I don’t want to hear that B-word out of anybody’s mouth.”
The mental game worked, and the players were able to focus on preparing for the third-round matchup. Hawkins said calling them the Green Team made them feel like “just another football team” that was in the way.
Friday came, and the Bearcats traveled to Atlanta for the away game. The high in Hotlanta that day was 48 degrees, and it dipped to 42 degrees at the start of the game. A light drizzle was coming down, and winds stayed at a steady 15 mph.
“I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet,” Harrison said. “As a football player, There’s a time in the game where you have to shut your mind off… After the game, that’s when you kind of realize like, ‘Man, I can’t feel nothing.’”
Bainbridge came out of the gate hot in the freezing game. The defense forced a safety on the Green Team’s opening drive. McDowell scored a 17-yard rushing touchdown on the Bearcats’ first offensive drive, then punched it into the endzone again on their next drive. McDowell’s scores and the safety put the Bearcats up 16-0 in the first quarter.
“We hit ‘em in the mouth right off the get-go,” Littleton said.
The Green Team responded with 13 unanswered through the rest of the half, bringing the score to 16-13 at halftime.
“I’m just going crazy at halftime because our kids are so cold,” Littleton said. “I’m cold, our coaches are cold. I mean, soaking wet. During the game, it was the most miserable game I’ve ever been a part of.”
Littleton said that coming out of halftime, all of the starters, and anyone who could be there, were under standing patio heaters on the sideline.
The second half started, and Bainbridge received the kickoff. McDowell caught the kick, and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown. The kick return gave the Bearcats a two-possession lead, but it wouldn’t last long. The Green Team scored a 65-yard rushing touchdown on the ensuing drive, bringing the score to 23-20.
The rest of the half was back and forth, but neither team found their way to the endzone in the frigid conditions. The Bearcats made a game-sealing four-down stand on defense with less than a minute left in the game. They forced a turnover on downs and ran the clock out to a final score of 23-20.
“Thank god our defense was out there,” Hawkins said, “Our offense was not moving the ball that day, but our defense was shutting them down. They couldn’t do anything.”
Littleton said the team played “well enough to finish” in the second half and credited McDowell for their success.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Littleton said about the running back.
After achieving what seemed to be an impossible task, there was just one more game to win before the final. The Bearcats were pitted against Stockbridge High School.
The No. 6 state-ranked Tigers had just one loss on the season and were coming off a 48-3 win in their previous game.
“It wasn’t as intimidating going to play [Stockbridge] as it was playing Bufort or Wayne County,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know why. It might have just been because we were confident.”
The game against Stockbridge was a tale of one quarter. 33 of the 39 points in the game were scored in the fourth quarter. Going into the fourth, the Tigers had a 6-0 lead.
“We didn’t really get going ‘till the very end,” Littleton said.
Stockbridge opened the scoring in the quarter with a 1-yard rushing touchdown with 10:54 left in the game. The TD increased the Tigers’ lead to 13-0
Caleb McDowell responded for the Bearcats, scoring a 6-yard receiving touchdown with 6:37 left on the clock. A successful point-after attempt from senior kicker Caleb Harris put the Bearcats down 7-13.
Bainbridge rode the momentum of the McDowell score in the ensuing defensive drive. Senior cornerback Aaron Spivie intercepted a Stockbridge flea flicker and brought it to the house with 5:25 left in the game. The pick-6 gave Bainbridge the lead at 14-13
Stockbridge answered on the next drive, scoring a receiving touchdown with 1:53 left. The Tigers marched 66 yards down the field and bled more than three and a half minutes off the clock in the scoring drive.
What happened on the ensuing kickoff may be one of the most incredible sequences of events to happen in Georgia high school football history.
“I was on the sideline praying to God,” Harrison said. “It was kind of like a miracle.”
Stockbridge lined up to kick the ball off to the Bearcats after their touchdown. Sophomore kicker Marco Trejo kicked a low, bouncing ball, hitting a Bainbridge special teamer at the 40-yard line.
The ball falls to the ground in front of him, and a Tigers’ player barrels towards it — a Stockbridge recovery seems imminent. The Tiger dives for the ball, and, at the same time, another Bearcat makes an effort for it.
In what can only be explained as a defiance of the laws of physics, the ball bounces between them, pops up into the air, deflects off the Stockbridge player’s cleat and falls into the hands of senior linebacker Randy Fillingame.
Fillingame gets almost instantly swarmed by Stockbridge players, but it didn’t matter. The linebacker, running for his life, shakes off 7-8 Tigers trying to tackle him. They eventually overwhelmed him and started to tackle him to the ground. He then made a play that will go down in Bearcat history.
“As he’s getting tackled,” Littleton said. “He flips it to— guess who? McDowell. He runs down the sideline. Score. Touchdown on a booted kickoff.”
The crowd erupted as they saw McDowell with the ball, running into open space and crossing into the endzone to put Bainbridge up 20-19.
“This is Impossible!” said the Broadcaster on the NFHS live feed of the game as McDowell ran down the sideline. “This is not possible!
An unsuccessful 2-point attempt kept the score at 20-19 with 1:37 left in the game. Stockbridge needed any type of score on their next drive to win the game.
The Tigers received the Bearcat kickoff and started their drive at their 44-yard line. They methodically marched down the field, running plays to the sidelines and first-down markers to continue the drive and conserve the clock.
After more than a minute of game time, Stockbridge faced a 4th & 10 from the Bainbridge 43-yard line. The Tigers snapped the ball to Junior quarterback Jevon Mcdonald, and he dropped back, looking for an open receiver.
He threw a laser to senior wide receiver Yahsyn Mckee, who leaped up to catch the ball at the 34-yard line. With his momentum carrying him, all McKee needed to do was land and take a step forward to reach the first down marker.
Senior cornerback Bryce Worthy had other plans for McKee. He flew in and tackled the Tiger receiver before he could land, propelling him backward and keeping him from crossing the first down line.
“[Worthy] just leveled him,” Cobb said. “I can still hear the hit in my head. I was standing right there.”
The Bearcats got the ball after forcing the turnover on downs, kneeled it, and punched their ticket to the State Championship.
With a 5-5 regular season record, after enduring the most devastating storm in Bainbridge history, processing the grief of a teammate losing his mother, and surviving a gauntlet of top-ranked teams, The Bainbridge Bearcats were headed to Mercedes Benz Stadium to claim the state title.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle that we’re going to the state championship,” Hawkins said.
The Bearcats celebrated their victory but focused up after finding out their State Championship opponent, Warner Robins. The same Warner Robins that beat them 38-0 in the regular season.
“I don’t give a damn what happened,” Littleton said to the team in reference to their matchup against Warner Robins. “That was a hurricane week, everybody wasn’t here. Play your brand of football, we’re on a roll. We’re going to be confident, but don’t be cocky… We’re all confident because of the way we won and the resilience that we had and the adversity that we went through.”
Littleton said the team prepared like they were “supposed” to and didn’t put too much stock into their history with the Demons. He assured his players that they were playing at a neutral site and that it was an advantage for them.
“Half the town went,” Leah Hawkins said. “We filled capacity.”
During the week of preparation, some of the Bearcat players received messages from Warner Robins players. They sent pictures and videos of the team getting sized for state championship rings.
“They’re going to come in thinking they’ve already won,” Hawkins said. “They’re not going to prepare all week. They’re not going to come into this game ready to play like we are.”
The State Championship game came. The Bearcats had the chance to enact revenge on a team that kicked them while they were down and cement themselves into Georgia high school football history.
Bainbridge won the coin toss and deferred the ball. They would kick off to the Demons.
The game was quiet for most of the first quarter. It started with five straight 3-and-out drives between the Demons and Bearcats. Bainbridge got the first first down on the sixth drive of the game. They were unsuccessful on their next set of downs and punted it to Warner Robins. The Demons went 3-and-out again.
This time, it was different.
Warner Robins’ senior punter Samariy Howard set up on the Demons’ 10-yard line for a punt with 3:09 on the clock. Howard received the snap and wound up to kick, but he dropped the ball too far in front of him to make solid contact.
He attempted the kick, but it flew into his blockers’ backs and launched into the air. Senior linebacker Anthony Brooks snagged the wounded punt out of the air and returned it for a touchdown.
Bainbridge leads 7-0
The Bearcats kicked it to the Demons for their fifth offensive drive of the quarter, yet to make a first down. Worthy, who made the game-sealing tackle against Stockbridge, intercepted Warner Robins on the first play of their drive. The senior linebacker returned the takeaway for a touchdown with 2:45 on the clock.
Bainbridge leads 14-0.
They kicked off again to the Demons for their sixth offensive drive of the game— Warner Robins still looking for their first first down of the game. Again, the Bearcats denied the Demons a first down.
Fillingane recovered a forced fumble on the third play of the drive, giving Bainbridge the ball inside the 25-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, McDowell threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Spivie with 1:35 on the clock.
“Everything is going right!” exclaimed Matt Stewart, the play-by-play commentator for the game. “No one saw that coming… Especially not Warner Robins.”
Bainbridge Leads 21-0. The Bearcats scored three touchdowns in less than 90 seconds.
“Everything was going Bainbridge’s way,” Cobb said. “I think Warner Robins put the cart before the horse a little bit.”
The Demons had one more drive in the first quarter, and it ended like all the others. The Bearcats’ defense was keeping Warner Robins from doing anything remotely productive.
The first quarter ended with Warner Robins on fourth down, ready to punt. There were only 28 net yards of total offense in the first quarter from both teams combined. The Demons had seven offensive drives and failed to get a first down on all of them.
The second quarter started with a punt to the Bearcats and an opportunity for them to jump to a four-score lead. They did just that in three plays. Spivie caught a 48-yard pass on the second play of the drive to bring Bainbridge down to the Warner Robins’ 9-yard line. McDowell punched it in with a rushing touchdown on the next play.
Bainbridge Leads 28-0
The Bearcat scoring run came to an end after the McDowell touchdown. After a few back-and-forth drives, Warner Robins finally earned a first down 17 minutes and 3 seconds into the game. The first down drive would lead to a score for the Demons. That would be the last time either team found the endzone in the half.
Bainbridge Leads 28-7. Halftime.
“I’m going crazy,” Littleton said. “I’m jumping up on the stools just trying to get our kids back down off cloud nine.”
Hawkins said going into halftime of the State Championship game with a 21-point lead felt like “Everything you’ve ever dreamed of.” As surreal as it was, he said it also may have made the team complacent in the second half.
The complacency didn’t show early.
The Bearcats received the opening kick of the second half. Spivie brought the kick in and returned it across mid-field. Bainbridge wasn’t able to capitalize on the favorable field position, but a punt pinned the Demons inside their 10-yard line.
They put four plays together before the Bearcat defense came in to ruin their fun. Freshman cornerback Deyon Bouie intercepted a Warner Robins pass at the 30-yard line and snuck his way through the Demons offense to score a touchdown.
“Every little mistake that Warner Robins makes, Bainbridge capitalizes,” said Brian Jordan, the co-commentator of the game.
Bainbridge Lead 35-7
“The team that beat us 38 to nothing,” Littleton said. “We’re up 35-7 in the third quarter.”
Things went downhill for the Bearcats after the touchdown. Bainbridge struggled to put a drive together, further hindered by special teams mistakes and multiple drives starting within the 5-yard line.
Warner Robins scored four unanswered touchdowns through the rest of the half. The Demons found a groove on the offensive side of the ball and were gashing Bainbridge with crossing routes through the middle.
The Bearcats’ inability to keep the ball and eat the clock gave Warner Robins the time and momentum to make their historic 28-point comeback.
4th quarter, 1:10 left. 35-35
“They came back, boom, boom, boom, got back in it,” Littleton said. “At the end, it was a tied ball game.”
Bainbridge received a kickoff from the Demons after their equalizing touchdown and was brought down at their 27-yard line.
They started the drive conservatively with two rushing plays in an attempt to milk the clock and bring the game to overtime. On the third play, they called a passing play that resulted in an interception.
“We had been doing it all year,” Littleton said. “Be aggressive. We got here being aggressive, don’t stop that now.”
Walker dropped back on the play, looked to the right-hand sidelined, and launched a ball towards Bouie 25 yards down the field. A Demons defender jumped in front of the pass, grabbed it out of the air, and returned it to the 17-yard line. The interception put Warner Robins in field goal range with 19 seconds left in the game.
“I probably shouldn’t have put him in that situation,” Littleton said. “We tell Quade, ‘All right, let’s throw it to our playmaker out there…’ Being a young quarterback, when you make a mistake, they intercept it. And then we have to block a field goal to go into overtime.”
Warner Robins ran two plays that took the clock down to six seconds, then lined up for a game-winning field goal.
That’s when Roman Harrison single-handedly saved the season.
“I’m standing there,” Harrison said. “Coach Dollar looks at me, and he was like, ‘Roman, you have to block this kick.’”
The Demons brought their kicking unit onto the field. Harrison lined up on the inside of the defensive line in a three-point stance, waiting for the snap.
The ball gets snapped, Harrison pops up, takes two steps, then hurdles the offensive lineman in front of him. As he flies over the line, his arms flail in the air, partially to keep his balance and get a hand on the ball. Harrison lands and reaches as high as he can with his left hand. The Demons’ kicker sends it directly into the paw of Harrison, who bats it down and denies them the win.
End of Regulation 35-35
“It was a surreal moment,” Harrison said. “We sent it into overtime.”
In Georgia high school football, each team gets a chance to score in the overtime periods. Teams start on the 15-yard line and have a standard set of downs to reach the endzone; a first down marker at the 5-yard will reset the downs.
If a team does not score a touchdown, they can elect to kick a field goal. Once one team plays their overtime drive, the other team gets a chance. If the second team scores more points than the first team, they win. If they score the same amount of points, the game moves to another overtime period. If they score less points, the first team wins.
Bainbridge started with the ball in 1st overtime. They were unable to move the ball past the line of scrimmage in three plays, resulting in a 4th down field goal try. Bearcats’ kicker Caleb Harris lined up for a 37-yard field goal and booted it through the uprights to give Bainbridge 3 points.
Warner Robins exploded early in their overtime try. The Demons threw a pass on the first play of the drive that brought them to the 5-yard line. They had four attempts to get into the endzone and claim the state title. The Bearcat defense wasn’t going to let that happen.
Bryce Worthy snuck around the edge and tackled a Warner Robins running back in the backfield on the Demons’ first play.
Warner Robins attempted a pass to the endzone on their second play, but junior defensive back Jaheim Jenkins broke it up. Their third play was a similar pass play, and the Demon’s QB overthrew his receiver. They were forced to kick a field goal. It was good.
Warner Robins started with the ball. After a pass breakup on the first play, the Demons got the ball to the five-yard line on the second play. Again, the Bearcat defense was tasked with stopping Warner Robins in dangerous field position.
1st play- Warner Robins hands the ball off to a running back headed for the edge of the field. Senior linebacker Anthony Brooks chased him down and tackled him at the line of scrimmage.
2nd play- The Demons send a running back through the middle and make it to the 2-yard line.
3rd play- Warner Robins runs it up the middle again, where the running back is met by Worthy — no gain on the play.
4th play- The Demons kick a field goal. It’s good.
Bainbridge gets the ball for their 2nd overtime drive and struggles again to make progress past the line of scrimmage.
On 3rd & 9, Hawkins throws a pass to sophomore tight end Jackson Mccullogh who catches it in the endzone. The announcers exclaim that Bainbridge has won the state championship, but a flag is thrown on the play.
The Bearcats lined up in an illegal formation, invalidating the touchdown and pushing them back five yards.
They’re now at 3rd & 14, and Hawkins makes an incredible play to keep the drive alive. He took the snap and was pressured immediately by the Warner Robins rush. He danced around in the backfield until eventually throwing a pass through the middle of the field to senior wide receiver Adrian Cooper, who caught it at the 5-yard line. They got the first down and a fresh set of downs.
McDowell received a handoff on the first play and was caught in the backfield and tackled for a 7-yard loss. An illegal procedure penalty on the next play pushed them back another five yards. With the ball on the 17-yard line, Bainbridge had a much slimmer chance to make it into the endzone.
Two overthrows from Hawkins made it 4th & goal from the 17-yard line. The Bearcats lined up to kick a 34-yard field goal to keep the game alive. Harris made another clutch field goal, giving his team another chance in 3rd overtime.
3rd overtime is the longest a state championship game has ever lasted in Georgia high school football history.
The Bearcats start with the ball. They hand the ball to McDowell on the first play, who runs it up the middle to the 7-yard line. McDowell receives a handoff on the next play but gets stopped before he can make it to the line of scrimmage.
On the third play, the Bearcats lined up for what looked like another rushing play for McDowell. Hawkins takes the snap and puts the ball in the belly of the sophomore running back.
“I just pulled it,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t even think about it. I saw the endzone, took off, got tackled, stood up and I was in the endzone.
Hawkins said he saw the Demons’ defense crashing the side McDowell would have run on, so he pulled the ball out at the last second and took it himself. The sophomore quarterback fooled everybody and beelined to the endzone. There was just one man to beat between him and a state championship, and Hawkins lowered his shoulder and plowed the Warner Robins defender into the endzone.
“I was going crazy,” Hawkins said. “But obviously, we’ve got to wait for [Warner Robins] to come out— one of the most explosive offenses, probably the most explosive offense in the state of Georgia.”
The Demons came out fast in third overtime. They made it to the 7-yard line on the first play of the drive, needing just two yards to get a first down.
They ran a running back up the middle on their second play, who was immediately met by Harrison, bringing him down behind the line of scrimmage.
On their third play, Warner Robins snapped the ball to their quarterback in shotgun. As the QB was looking for an open receiver, sophomore defensive end Tahari Tate sacked him, causing a loss of seven yards.
It was 4th & 10, and the Bearcats needed one more stop to be crowned state champions. The Demons snapped the ball to their quarterback, who threw a pass to the corner of the endzone. Bouie was covering the receiver tight. The ball soared through the air, and, with his lockdown defending, Bouie kept the receiver from bringing in the catch.
The Bearcats won the GHSA Class 5A State Championship 47-41.
“This is the best feeling of my life,” Worthy said after the game. “We dreamed this as kids, and now it’s becoming a reality.
Littleton praised his team for pushing through adversity.
“The determination in these kids is unbelievable,” Littleton said. “They fought to the end. They never one time wavered at all. I mean, what a game.”