JACKSON — The Greenville Christian Saints (11-1) left no doubt who was the best team in MAIS 3A football this season as they earned a dominant 52-20 win against the top seed previously undefeated Carroll Academy Rebels (11-1) in the championship game Friday night at the Jackson Academy Brickyard.
“This is awesome and a great opportunity for our players and great for our school and our community,” said Saints head coach John Reed McLendon. “We love the fact that the hard work this season has paid off and it’s a great felling knowing that we are state champions.”
As most teams have experienced this season, the Rebels defense had trouble stopping the Greenville Christian offense most of the night. But, they seized some momentum as halftime neared by scoring a touchdown after a sustained drive.
But Saints return man Kerrick Ross broke the Rebels spirit with a dazzling 94-yard return for touchdown where along the way it appeared he would be stopped on three different occasions and perhaps would step out of bounds.
After a two-point conversion, Greenville Christian took a commanding 38-12 lead into the intermission.
The Rebels ate up 7:31 of the third quarter on a 13-play 47-yard drive to open the second half.
When the Saints offense took over, junior quarterback DJ Smith connected with Ross on a short screen pass that went for a 40-yard touchdown.
The extra point gave Greenville Christian a 46-12 lead with 2:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Smith added a 52 yard touchdown run as time expired in the third. The extra point failed and the Saints took a 52-12 lead into the final stanza.
“When you’re behind by such a big deficit, you can only try to get back in it one play at a time, “ said Rebels head coach Bo Milton. “You can’t give a team like Greenville Christian too many breaks. They’re just too talented.”
Both teams opened the game demonstrating the offensive prowess that was responsible for their presence in the title game. The Saints offense took the opening possession, mixed in a few Marlon Palmer runs, Smith throws and capped the 80 -yard drive with a Smith five-yard touchdown run.
The two-point conversion gave the Saints a quick 8-0 lead with 10:04 remaining in the first quarter.
“DJ is a phenomenal player and he’s been our leader all year,” McLendon said. “We feed off his energy on both sides of the ball.”
Carrol Academy was intent on using its power running game to chew up time on the clock and deliberately keep pace with the Saints high powered offense.
The strategy worked early as the Rebels quickly responded to the Saints touchdown with a ground and pound drive finished off by a Mathis Beck four-yard touchdown run.
On the Saints next possession, Smith faked a hand off to Palmer and fought through Carrol Academy defense and stretched the ball across the goal line for a 17-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion gave Greenville Christian a 16-6 lead with 6:12 remaining in first quarter.
The Saints recovered a Rebels fumble near midfield and immediately capitalized on their next offensive possession as
Palmer shed a couple of tackles, stumbled but kept upright by using his off hand to keep his balance himself en route to an 11-yard touchdown run. The extra point failed and the Saints led 22-6 as the first quarter ended.
Smith found Daishun Scott on a back shoulder throw for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 6:01 remaining in the second quarter. The two point conversion gave the Saints a 30-6 lead.
Carrol Academy scored its second touchdown of the even on a Hunter Braken five-yard run with two minutes remaining until halftime. The extra point failed and Greenville Christian led 30-12.
Carrol Academy added a late throw and catch from sophomore quarterback Vernon Blaylock to Beck in the final two minutes of the game. This is the Saints first championship since 1982 and they were the only lower seed/ visiting team in all six championship games this weekend to win it all.
“It’s unbelievable. These kids have come together formed a bond and played as a family. It’s been a challenging year but these kids have made it easy,” McLendon said.