No. 1 seed Mitchell stunned at home, 17-7

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- It's hard to recover from a punch in the gut.

But two punches?

That's a recipe for a knockout, and exactly what No. 4-seed Savannah Christian did to No. 1-seed Mitchell County on Friday night, gaining steam early to eliminate the Eagles, 17-7, in the first round of the 1-A playoffs.

"They just kind of gained the momentum in the beginning of the game, kept it going and did a (great) job managing the clock," said Mitchell County head coach Dondrial Pinkins, whose team was hosting its first playoff game since 1999. "We just couldn't get anything going."

The No. 10 team in the state didn't let them.

On the first kickoff of the game, Savannah (10-1) surprised the Eagles (9-2) with an onside kick and recovered it perfectly.

The Raiders got it down to the 12-yard line on eight carries for 28 yards by third-string running back Andrew Moore, but Mitchell recovered a fumble. The Eagles couldn't do much on their first drive, however, as their only five plays of the first quarter moved them up only 12 yards.

Moore -- who finished with 47 carries for 194 yards -- took over again at that point, and kept running up the middle to get the Raiders close enough for Mac Miller's 31-yard field goal with 1:42 left in the first.

"That's their gameplan and has been all year," Pinkins said. "They do what they do and do it well."

On the ensuing kickoff, Savannah recovered their second straight onside kick, and would eventually score on Moore's 5-yard run up the middle with 10:35 left in the second to put the Eagles in a 10-0 hole.

"They came out with the two onside kick (recoveries), so that kind of took the breath out of us," said senior Mitchell receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, the UGA commit who was held to three catches for 24 yards. "We were looking forward to the defense giving us the ball back, but that's the way it goes, I guess."

The Raiders squibbed yet another onside kick after Moore's TD, but the Eagles were able to hold on to it -- barely. Mitchell didn't do much with it, though, and turned it over on downs.

Savannah scored again with 1:23 left in the half on a 9-yard run by RB Will Austin -- who finished with 73 yards on the ground -- and held the 17-0 lead, which is all they needed to win.

"The first half, we made some mental errors," Mitchell junior Ja'Kyari Jenkins said. "But the second half, we held them at 17, and the offense just couldn't execute enough to win the game."

Mitchell actually netted zero yards on offense in the first half, compared to Savannah's 102 yards on 27 carries from Moore and 63 yards on six carries from Nordo Govan, who converted a first down every time he touched the ball in the first half.

"They came out and executed and did what they do. They followed their game plan and it was a pretty tough matchup," Scott-Wesley said. "They were state runner-ups last year and we fought hard, but at the end of the day, I guess the better team won."

The Eagles finally got on the board with 1:14 left in the game on Jesse Atkins' 14-yard pass to Jenkins to make it 17-7, but they couldn't complete the rally, despite recovering their own onside kick.

But despite the early exit from the No. 1 team in the Herald's Fab Five Poll, Pinkins said he was proud of his team, which finished 3-7 last year.

"(They did an) outstanding job to turn this program around going," Pinkins said. "To finish 9-2, that's a heck of a job. My heart goes out to the team, though. Hate to see it end for them like this -- I've been in their shoes twice before, second round one year, third round the year before -- but honestly, from my playing experience, the closer you get, the harder it hurts when you get put out.

"We weren't capable of winning the whole thing, so I'm kind of glad it happened when it did. I would hate to see them go through what I went through at their age."

Savannah Christian, which has been in the Top 10 in the state all year and finished with 334 yards on the ground, advances to play Charlton County.