ATHENS, Ga. – On Saturday, despite chilly temperatures, overcast skies and a rain-damped field, the Georgia Bulldogs competed in their annual G-Day spring game to culminate the spring football session. And in a competitive matchup that featured a brilliant duel between two Covington products, Newton High alum JJ Holloman’s Red Team defeated the former Eastside Eagle Eric Stokes’ Black Team 22-17.
Though it’s only April, both the chilly weather and the flood of 52,000-plus red-and-black clad fans that swarmed Sanford Stadium resembled a glorious fall Saturday. Rain, wind and an uncharacteristic April cold managed to stave off a portion of the Georgia faithful, but those who braved the elements were rewarded with a treat.
“We came out and gave a performance today,” Holloman said when asked about how he felt the offense played. “Some stuff we can clean up, but we came out overall and dominated the game.”
The game gave Georgia fans the chance to get a look at quarterback Stetson Bennett, a Pierce County High product who transferred over from Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College. The 5-foot-11 signal caller led the day with an 8-for-14 passing performance and 128 yards, including a long touchdown pass to Holloman.
Jake Fromm started the game and completed 14 of 29 passes for 116 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But all in all, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said he was pleased with what he saw from both his quarterbacks.
“Both of our quarterbacks got to compete, and that was good from a competitive standpoint,” Smart said. “We liked what we saw from them. We got the chance to see the look in some guys and they were out there competing and playing hard. That part was good, and no major injuries, which is also good.”
The weather, which resembled something one would expect in early November instead of late April, was likely a factor to keep the attendance down. But Stokes still found reason to compliment the fans that made the trip.
“It was amazing,” Stokes said. “The fans showed out. It was raining and it was cold. If it was sunny I know dang well this place would’ve been packed and sold out. We still have the best fans in the nation.”
Stokes wasted no time getting the crowd warmed up.
On the game’s opening drive, Stokes provided the day’s signature highlight. Lined up against the Holloman, Stokes jumped Holloman’s slant route. The two collided at the ball and wrestled for possession before Stokes stripped the ball away and sauntered into the end zone for the 39-yard pick six to open up the game, giving the Black Team a 7-0 lead.
Stokes said he noticed Holloman’s wide split and anticipated the slant. “I saw [Holloman] slipped, and when he slipped, I took a little peek at the quarterback when I knew I shouldn’t,” Stokes recalled. “I saw Fromm threw it. So, then me and JJ were fighting for the ball and luckily I was the one who ended up with it and was able to score.”
“He certainly made a big play starting off,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “It was a good fight for the ball, and he scored when he got it. He’s a kid that’s come a long way.”
The pair of Covington products were lined up on each other all afternoon. For the first half, Stokes held Holloman without a catch on three targets. Stokes had one interception and two passes defended, including a great play through the ball on a first quarter fade to Holloman, saving a touchdown.
Though they are teammates now, the two have competed against each other for years, most notably as rivals in high school. After the game, Eric commented on his matchup with Holloman.
“It was amazing,” Stokes smiled. “Because, you know, me and JJ played on the same rec tea. We’ve been battling since little league. And especially, you already know in high school, he went to Newton, I went to Eastside. Big ‘ole rivalry there. So me and JJ have been going at it for the longest time. It feels amazing to know that we’re both out here doing the things that we’re doing.”
In the first half, both squads tacked on a pair of field goals – Rodrigo Blankenship knocked in a 23 yarder for the Red team, and Brooks Buce hit a 42-yard field goal for the Black squad.
Down 10-3 with 6:34 left in the first half, Fromm rolled out and connected with running back Brian Herrien in the flat, who followed a Holloman lead block for a 13-yard score.
The Herrien touchdown tied it up at 10-10, a score that would stand through halftime.
Early in the third quarter, sophomore punter Jake Camarda got the call for a long, 49-yard field goal. His kick was true, giving the Red Team a 13-10 lead with 11:41 left in the quarter.
Later in the quarter, Kirby Smart broke out the bag of tricks.
On one play, running back James Cook took a sweep hand off to the left, and tossed the ball back to receiver Matt Landers on the reverse. Just before he turned it upfield, Landers tossed the ball down field to wide-open freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis who scampered for a 39-yard score, putting the Black Team back up 17-13.
In the first half version of Stokes vs. Holloman, Stokes easily had the advantage. In the second half however, Holloman got his revenge with 3 catches for 53 yards. His biggest catch came on a deep post route with 8:09 left in the fourth. A few head fakes and a cut later and Holloman blew past Stokes and hauled in a Stetson Bennett spiral for a 43-yard TD to put the Red Team on top 19-17.
“It was real funny because I actually called it out,” Holloman commented on his long TD against Stokes. “I told him it was a touchdown before we went out there. It was funny because I was getting him back for the interception he had earlier. So, I mean it was a good day for both of us Covington Boys.”
Jack Podlesny added a 38-yard field goal for the Red Team with 1:41 left in the game, to push their lead to 22-17 which would stand for the rest of the game.
The next time Georgia hits the field in a football game situation will be when the Bulldogs open the season on the road at SEC foe Vanderbilt on August 31. The Bulldogs’ next three games will be at home against Murray State (Sept. 7), Arkansas State (Sept. 14) and Notre Dame (Sept. 21).