COVINGTON, Ga. — On a night many would dub a good, old-fashioned “mud bowl” game, the Peachtree Academy Panthers achieved their season-long goal of becoming back-to-back GAPPS AA state champions after defeating Johnson Ferry Christian Academy by a dominating score of 58-24.
“I’m so proud of my boys,” head coach Clinton Miller said. “We had a lot of injuries in the first half of the season, but we stayed together, we never got down. We got healthy and went on a run late and dominated the last five games.”
In a game that was plagued by a muddy field due to rainy weather all day, the Panthers relied heavily on their ground game, to the tune of 452 yards rushing on 42 carries, 320 of those yards coming in the first half.
“I’m really proud of Marvin Peeples and Kaileb Brisbane, and I’ve got to give my offensive line a shout out — my son Clinton Miller, Jackson White, Griffin Carter, Jacob Carter and Walker Payton, my offensive line took over the last five weeks of the season.”
Adding to the already huge day on the ground was the fact the Panthers did not cough up the ball a single time despite the poor field conditions.
“We preached all week about ball security,” Miller said. “Before we came out on the field, I wrote on the white board, 'ball security,' as my number one key.
And it was a first half of competition, far from what the final score indicated.
After the Sajnts struck first on a drive that took just over four minutes off the clock, the Panthers would find the endzone on just one play after Shamari Samuels took a reverse 67 yards for the score. After the two-point conversion, the Panthers took an 8-6 lead.
They would have the lead for the rest of the night.
On their next drive, after another long run by Samuels, Marvin Peeples would plow it in from 8 yards out to score his first of three touchdowns on the day coupled with a 211-yard rushing performance.
The Saints would continue fighting, however, scoring on a fourth-and-8 passing play on the Panthers 38 to keep it close at 14-12 with three minutes left in the first.
But the Panthers continued their trend of scoring fast. On one play Peeples roared for an 80-yard score that put the Panthers up 20-12 at the end of the first.
Once again, the Saints would fight back, scoring on a fourth-and-goal attempt.
Peeples roared in for another touchdown and then caught a touchdown pass from Dakota Boeckman to make it 36-18 as the period expired.
Then came the true ground-and-pound domination.
Coming out of the half, the Saints scored quickly, and it would be their last score of the game — a huge accomplishment by the defense of the Panthers.
As the rain began to fall harder, the chorus of running backs began to put the game away very quickly, highlighted by a monster second half performance from Kaiden Brisbane. His 111-yard, three touchdown night began on a 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 44-24 lead.
The ground-and-pound offense was something Miller had to quickly prepare for due to the change in weather conditions.
“When we practiced all week, we practiced a lot of pass plays,” he said. “We we’re going to pass, but when I saw the sloppy field, and I saw how we were handling their defensive front, I said, ‘We’re going to keep it on the ground and run it right down their throat.’”
Two turnovers and three more scores later, the Panthers were in the middle of the field celebrating their second consecutive state championship.
Reflecting on the season leading up the celebratory moment, Miller could only reiterate how proud he was of his team and their resiliency.
“I’m just proud of the way our team came together at the end during the last four games of the season,” he said. “There was no complaining about playing time. There was no pouting. Our boys just came together and decided that they wanted to win more than they wanted individual accolades. They’re great young men, and I love them, and I wish nothing but the best for them in life.”
As defending state champions, the Panthers will once again be the team to beat heading into next season, but Miller isn’t focused too much on what’s next just yet.
“I’m just going to enjoy this time right now and celebrate.”