McNair High missed a straight-ahead 40-yard field goal at the buzzer Friday night as Decatur High hung on for scary 21-20 victory at Panthersville Stadium.
Bad news came along several hours later as Decatur was mathematically eliminated from the state playoffs.
Ninth-ranked (in this week’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll) St. Pius X overcame a 14-9 halftime deficit to beat seventh-ranked Blessed Trinity 24-17.
That victory, combined with Cedar Grove’s stunning 47-14 upset over Woodward, creates a logjam in the Region 6-AAA standings, with Cedar Grove, Blessed Trinity and Pius X tied for first place with 4-1 regional records. The four playoff berths are sewed up, with the three first-place teams and Woodward (4-2).
That keeps Decatur, now 5-4 and 2-3, out of the state playoffs.
Decatur plays Pius X next Friday at the Decatur High Stadium, and a victory will give the Bulldogs a winning season, only their second in the last seven.
Decatur’s performance against McNair was not a good one, and head coach Brad Waggoner was at a loss to explain why.
“We had a decent week of practice,” he said, “but we came out flat. We sure didn’t finish our tackles, and our offense never could get going.”
It appeared the Bulldogs were going to take control in the second quarter. A 10-play, 70-yard drive, culminating in a two-yard touchdown run from Nic Bentley, tied the game at 7 with 4:38 left in the first half.
Moments later, after a 44-yard punt return from Terryon Robinson, senior tailback Andrew Brown ran four straight times, the final for five yards and a touchdown. That gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 edge at intermission.
But the Decatur offense wouldn’t produce another score all night. Sophomore quarterback Joseph Comer, making only his third varsity start, “struggled in making his reads,” Waggoner said.
He completed 7 of 13 passes for only 84 yards. Indeed, one of the mysteries of this game is why Decatur, with its talented wide receiver corps of Robinson and the Cowan twins (Terez and Perez), didn’t take advantage of a suspect McNair secondary.
Further, although Decatur’s offensive line turned in another solid performance, the team managed only 97 yards rushing, 58 of those coming from Brown on 17 carries.
Statistically, McNair dominated the game, with 438 yards total offense to Decatur’s 181.
Decatur’s one superlative individual performance came from Robinson. He caught four passes for 58 yards and ran three times for 31 to go along with his dazzling punt return.
The Bulldogs lengthened their lead to 21-7 when Perez Cowan intercepted a pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown with 8:51 left in the third.
But Decatur couldn’t contain McNair’s nimble, athletic quarterback (the home school didn’t provide a roster). With a powerful, though erratic arm, he completed 13 of 29 passes, while adding 121 yards rushing, 87 of those in the second half.
“Their no-huddle offense didn’t surprise us,” Waggoner said, “but the fact they ran a shotgun did. I don’t think they’d run a shotgun much all year. Still, we forced [the quarterback] out of the pocket all night, we just couldn’t finish the tackles.”
The McNair quarterback, averaged 22 yards per pass completion, connected on a 67-yarder for a touchdown with 5:11 left in the game, cutting Decatur’s lead to 21-20.
Then, in the game’s biggest play, McNair tried for two. The quarterback rolled left, but junior end Kyle Kitchens dogged him, dived and grabbed him around the ankles as he threw. Sophomore linebacker Tommy Renfroe slapped the pass down in the end zone in what ultimately saved the game.
There was still one tense moment remaining. McNair took over on downs on its own 37 with 1:35 left and promptly drove to Decatur’s 14 in seven plays. But back-to-back penalties – a false start and an illegal procedure -- backed the ball up and forced McNair to attempt a 40-yard field goal with 1.7 seconds left.
The attempt was woefully amiss, not nearly high enough and barely reaching the end zone, as the Decatur faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Decatur closes this, Waggoner’s first season at the helm, with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff next Friday.
The coach said sophomore quarterback Devontae Carter, who played so well, and sometimes brilliantly early in the season, is nearly 100 percent after bruising his pelvis a month ago. He added that Carter took a lot more snaps in practice this past week, but demurred in naming a starter for next week.
“They’re both going to be good ones,” Waggoner said of Carter and Comer. “We’ll wait and see how the week goes before deciding who starts.”