Photo by Jason Mussell / Stockbridge’s Titus Davis (9) and Javon Brandon (right) try to bring down Marist’s Griffin King in the Tigers’ 15-7 loss in the Class AAAA quarterfinal Friday.
STOCKBRIDGE — Given time, coach Kevin Whitley will appreciate the most successful football in Stockbridge High School history.
He’ll fondly look back on the Tigers’ 11-game winning streak following a season-opening loss to Martin Luther King and the first region championship in school annals.
But it likely will be a while yet before Whitley comes to that point because he still hasn't come to grips with the disappointment of Friday night’s Class AAAA state-quarterfinal loss to Marist that his team could have easily won.
The Tigers made way too many egregious mistakes in a tough 15-7 loss to the War Eagles at The Jungle, learning the hard way what it takes to play championship football.
The Region 4-AAAA top seed was helpless as the visitors physically took over the second half, dominating the clock and field position in rallying for 12 unanswered points to advance to next week’s state semifinal against Ridgeland, which routed Mary Persons 45-14.
Stockbridge closes its season out at 11-2.
“They’d been here before,” Whitley said. “You could tell they’d been here before and we hadn’t.”
Marist, the top-seeded Region 6-AAAA team, improved to 12-1 after limiting the Tigers to just three first downs in the second half, all coming in the frantic final 90 seconds.
A punishing defense led by a stout defensive line throttled the Stockbridge offense, while giving the War Eagles favorable field position the entire second half. Marist had the ball five times in the second half, with its worst starting field position being its own 43-yard line.
The War Eagles scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the third period, when halfback Gray King took an option right before cutting back inside for a 15-yard scoring jaunt. That gave his team a 10-7 advantage with 4:06 to go in the third quarter.
The visitors later added a safety that made the score 12-7 with 9:51 left in the game as the Tigers continued to struggle offensively.
Stockbridge finished the game with just 31 net yards rushing, a mere 11 in the decisive second half.
“They dominated us up front,” Whitley said. “Physically, we couldn’t get anything going.”
Marist had struck first, converting a Malik Bryan fumble into three points when kicker Thomas Andrew was good from 24 yards to give the visitors a 3-0 advantage with 4:52 remaining in the opening period.
The Tigers made little headway against the War Eagles’ stout defensive front from the outset, failing to generate much of a running game. Stockbridge made things even tougher on itself with too many critical mistakes in the opening half. The Tigers recorded more penalty yards (70) on 12 flags than the 69 yards of total offense Marist mustered for the entire first half.
The Tigers finished with 15 penalties for 95 yards.
“You just can’t have those kinds of mistakes in a game like this and expect to win,” Whitley said.
The error-prone Tigers caught a break, however, when the War Eagles muffed a punt and gave them one final chance just before the half. Quarterback Trenton Earl made the most of the unexpected opportunity four plays later, darting in from 4 yards to give his team a 7-3 halftime lead.
Whitley was stoic in defeat.
“You have to give Marist credit,” he said. “They were the better team tonight.”