THOMASTON — “It was just a night of missed opportunities.”
That statement by Jackson Coach Dary Myricks summed up what would be the Red Devils’ final football game of the season as they lost to Upson-Lee, 28-14.
The loss technically dropped Jackson into a three-way tie with Mary Persons and Upson-Lee for fourth place and the final playoff spot. But the tie breaker is the least number of points scored by the opponents. Jackson had 55 points scored against it by Mary Persons (27) and Upson-Lee (28). Mary Persons had 45 points against it by Jackson (28) and Upson-Lee (17). Upson-Lee had 36 points scored against it by Mary Persons (22) and Jackson (14), so Upson-Lee won the tie breaker and the final playoff spot in the region.
Friday night at Matthews Field, Jackson jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Upson-Lee came back to score 21 points in the first half. Each team added a touchdown in the second half, but the Red Devils gave up too many scoring opportunities to get back into the game.
“I thought we played a solid defensive game the second half,” Myricks said. “We made some tackles. Dawson Livingston and those guys on defense played really great.
“We had good field position for most of the second half,” he continued. “We just couldn’t get anything going offensively. We just could not seem to make a play. We turned the ball over, couldn’t take advantage of field position. I thought their punter gave us some great opportunities with shanks and bad punts.”
Turnovers proved to be the difference in the game, with Jackson giving up the ball more than in any other game this season. The Red Devils had five fumbles, with Upson-Lee recovering four of them. Jackson also had two pass interceptions and a blocked punt. In contract, Upson-Lee just had one fumble in the game, with Jackson recovering it.
The Red Devils took the opening kickoff and started 14-play scoring drive from their own 30. The biggest play of the drive came on 4th and 5 at the UL 36. Luke Mathews hit Cameron Edwards on the sidelines with a 28-yard pass to the 8 to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Livingston bulled his way into the endzone. With Peyton Livingston’s kick, Jackson had a 7-0 lead with 7:58 left in the first quarter.
But the Knights came back with their own 72-yard scoring drive on 12 plays. Similar to Jackson, UL’s big play came on 4th and 5 at the Jackson 26. QB Jake Davis hit KJ Rockemore outside for a 15-yard pass completion and first down at the Jackson 11. Three plays later Davis went in from 7 yards out. With the kick, the score was 7-7 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Red Devils took the kickoff and moving into the second quarter, went 36 yards on five plays. But a 4th and 5 pass at the UL 31 fell incomplete and the Knights took over. Four plays later, Milique Smith took the handoff and ran through the defense for a 45-yard score. With the kick, Upson-Lee held a 14-7 lead with 10:42 left in the half.
The teams traded the ball back and forth for the next seven minutes. Following a UL punt downed at the Jackson 42, the Red Devils took over with 3:52 left, but went nowhere. On 4th and 17 from their own 35, the punt was blocked and UL fell on the ball at the Jackson 19.
Six plays later, Smith went over from 3 yards out. With the kick UL led 21-7 with 30 seconds left in the half.
Jackson drove down the field on four plays, and aided by a late hit call on UL, had 1st and goal at the 9 with 11 seconds left. The first pass attempt went for naught, and with 2nd and goal with 7 seconds left, Mathews couldn’t find a target, time ran out, and his pass fell incomplete.
Upson-Lee took the kickoff to start the second half, with Rockemore heading down the sidelines to the Jackson 39 before being knocked out of bounds. Three plays later, Davis found Smith outside for a 35-yard scoring strike. With the kick, UL led 28-7 with 10:19 left in the third.
The Knights kicked off and there was a fumble on the return, with Upson-Lee recovering the ball at the Jackson 27. But six plays later, on 3rd and goal at the 3, Davis was hit and fumbled, with the Red Devils recovering the ball at their own 9. Three plays later, on 3rd and 9, Mathews found Dennis Foster down the sidelines for a 90-yard touchdown strike. With Zimmerman’s kick, the Red Devils has closed to within 14, 28-14.
But even though the Jackson defense held UL scoreless for the rest of the game, the offense couldn’t get another scoring drive, giving up the ball with three fumbles, an interception, and a punt.
Jackson had one last chance to score as time ran out. On 1st and 10 at the Jackson 28, Mathews hit Foster outside at the UL 40. Foster attempted to get out of bounds as the clock wound down, but UL kept him from doing so. Tempers ignited and a fight broke out, with players from both sides coming onto the field. Coaches separated the teams as the game end.
Afterwards, Myricks said that’s not how the game should have ended, adding that there will be repercussions from the Georgia High School Association.
“That’s not the way we want the season to end, especially with the shenanigans after the game,” Myricks said. “I feel like my kid was trying to get to the sidelines. But it was a playoff situation and the GHSA is going to carry over. Kids don’t think sometimes. We’ll evaluate and see where our kids were, and see what happens and go from there.”
Jackson ends the season with an overall record of 4-5, 3-4 in 2-AAA.