Anthony Johnson got the word from the Pace sideline that he was going to get one last carry for his decorated prep career.
A final bow.
“They told me to make it count,” Johnson said.
Did he ever.
With his legs churning faster than emotions surged, Johnson sealed a record-setting legacy on a fitting, tackle-breaking, 78-yard touchdown that completed the Patriots’ 41-7 homecoming victory Friday night against Catholic in the season finale for both teams.
In Johnson’s case, it was the grandest of all.
“It is mind blowing to end it like that. I was trying to get to the end zone and it happened,” he said.
In making that happen, the senior tailback ended a four-year, high school career at Pace with 726 carries, 4,849 yards and 57 touchdowns. He needed 76 yards entering the game to break his predecessor, Quaide Weimerskirch, now at Georgia Tech, to become the all-time leading rusher in school history.
“I wasn’t here when Quaide was here, but my understanding is that he was a great back. Anthony is too,” said first-year Pace head coach Kent Smith, who spent the past several years at Jay High, but was formerly a Pace assistant under Mickey Lindsey.
“He has meant a lot,” Smith said of Johnson. “For one thing, he is a great kid. He works hard. He is a great team player. I know he will play at the next level because he has been a great one.”
Johnson finished the game with 169 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. The win enabled the Patriots (5-5) to end the year with two special wins — an overtime thriller last week at Milton, then a homecoming coronation.
“Good for these seniors,” Smith said. “The kids have been through a lot. We counted up there were 17 of them left out of 65 (players) who played as ninth graders. They persevered and broke even (record wise) and have two good wins to end the season.”
Even more fitting, Johnson scored the Patriots’ first touchdown Friday night and their final one. In the first quarter, the Patriots scored on five plays after a long return on the opening kickoff. Johnson went around left end from the 15 on a 3rd-and-1 call.
He has played a lead role in Pace’s offense these past few seasons, but Johnson’s own viewpoint is a reflection of his team-first mindset.
“When I look back, it’s not even about my career. It is everyone around me,” Johnson said. “It is not even about my career. I just love to go out with my teammates and do what I can do.
“I don’t go out here for stats. I go out here to play with my brothers.”
The Patriots led 13-0 on their next possession when quarterback Damean Bivins, who is among the underclassmen, burst free up the middle on a 22-yard run.
They got a safety, another Johnson touchdown from the 3, then a 57-yard pass strike from Bivins to senior Cameron Bozeman before the half to go up 29-0. After Pace scored with 5:57 left in the third quarter on Bivins’ 37-yard run in which he broke at least four tackles weaving on the sideline, it triggered a running clock for the rest of the game.
Catholic (4-6), seeking to have a .500 season, got its only score on a 13-yard run by Manta Purifoy later in the quarter.
The plan was for Johnson to get a final handoff, then have the announcer salute him with the crowd as he trotted off the field in the fourth quarter. Instead, he raced around the left end from the 22, broke tackles and outran Catholic’s defense to the end zone.
“It is just an amazing blessing,” Johnson said. ” All I could think of is the man above. That play was just great blocking and I’m just blessed.”
Earlier this week, Weimerskirch and Johnson exchanged, good-nature text messages about the game and the probability that rushing records were going to fall.
That was huge,” Johnson said. “I was thinking about that all week. It was 76 yards and I said I have to get that. I was messing with Quaide about it and I said Quaide I am about to get you.
“We won last week and there was nothing like Milton game. That is a rivalry. To end it like this, it does not get any better.”