As long as there’s a Class 3A state championship game to be played, people will talk about Saturday’s Hazlehurst-Charleston game.
In perhaps one of the most bizarre and captivating games the state championship series has produced, Hazlehurst captured its second state title with a 21-20 win over Charleston that featured far more twists and turns than its run-of-the-mill score would indicate.
Saturday’s crescendo came in the fourth quarter, with Hazlehurst having reached the Tigers’ 10 trailing 14-13.
Indians running back Demetrius Cain took the handoff, reached for that extra yard and fumbled. Charleston defensive lineman Jamal Brock scooped up the ball on the 1, helping the Tigers — at least temporarily — hold on to their slim lead.
But the play didn’t end there.
Hazlehurst’s Dycelious Reese stripped Brock of the ball and returned it 3 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I seen the ball pop up in the air, I was like, ‘Oh Lord,’ ” Reese said. “I seen No. 78 pick the ball up, I knew he wasn’t a running back, I knew he didn’t know how to hold (the ball), so I immediately went for the ball and try to strip it.
“The ball came in my hands, I squeezed it so tight and I ran into the end zone.”
Indians quarterback Kenneth Coleman then hit Cain on a short pass for the two-point conversion and a 21-14 lead.
That play would prove to be just as pivotal as Reese’s pickpocket touchdown, as Charleston’s Deshadrick Truly returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown.
But the Indians’ defense, as it did throughout the day, stiffened just in time to stuff the Tigers’ two-point conversion attempt to preserve its lead and the title.
“That’s just two good 3A football teams going at it against each other and nobody wanted to lose,” Hazlehurst coach Randal Montgomery said.
“You hear it all the time, you hate for somebody to lose. I’m glad it wasn’t us.”
So was Cain, whose late fumble almost spelled the end for the Indians.
“That’s the craziest play I’ve ever seen,” Cain said. “I’m just happy it’s over with.”
In what amounted to the rubber game between the two, Hazlehurst (16-0) avenged last year’s 34-6 loss to Charleston (14-2).
The Indians defeated the Tigers in 2005 for their only other state title.
“It ain’t silver this time,” Indians defensive lineman Javarius Tanner said, “it’s gold.”
That’s because of a Hazlehurst defense that came up with not one but three goal-line stands on the day.
“We just thought we’d take a shot at it,” Charleston coach Tony Vance said.
“They just did a good job of stopping us down there on the goal line.”
Charleston quarterback Jalen Haywood threw for 142 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He hit receiver Kameron Myers for a 61-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play of the game as Charleston took a quick 8-0 lead.