Deerfield senior star RB Kh’Ron McClain not only capped his senior season with a state title, he also surpassed former Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon’s single-season rushing record. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — The Deerfield-Windsor Knights didn’t just win the GISA Class AAA state title Friday night with a 27-19 victory against Heritage, the 16 seniors on the team ended a run like no other at Deerfield.
The win against Heritage gave them 48 victories in their four years at DWS, the most in any four-year span at the school. Last year’s senior class left with 47 wins, while this year’s went 13-1 and won 12 games in a row to capture it all and were unbeaten in 13 games in Georgia
“They got one more win than last year’s team,” said DWS coach Allen Lowe, who said all year long one of the keys to this team’s success was its senior class. “We had great senior leadership this year. This was a great group of seniors.’’
They were freshmen when DWS won 12 games and lost in the state final, and they were sophomores when the Knights had their only perfect season — a 13-0 year that culminated with a state championship. Some of the seniors played in that title game two years ago, but Friday was different. This was their game, the final of their era.
This was the end of a long road.
“We talked about winning a state title when we went undefeated in eighth grade,” said senior Patrick Forrestal, a two-way lineman who has already committed to Navy. “That seems like a long time ago. We have been playing together a long time. I love my teammates.’’
Quarterback Dallas Margeson said the journey to the state title began more than a decade ago.
“This team is so close,” Margeson said. “We have been playing together since kindergarten.’’
Then he stopped and collected his thoughts.
“I remember playing with these guys on the hill in kindergarten,’’ he added. “We are just so close, so close. This team is so great. I don’t mean great (as in a great talented team), I mean great because we are so close and we care about each other so much.”
Margeson said he felt like a kid when the Knights finally won it by hanging on against Heritage, which drove to the DWS 14 and fired a pass into the end zone that fell short on the final play of the night. Margeson was in the secondary on the play.
“When the ball hit the ground and it was over, I just started running around, and jumping up and down and screaming like a little child,’’ Margeson said. “I can’t think of a better feeling than this.’’
Margeson was a big part of Friday’s win and a big part of the season, leading DWS with poise and savvy all year. He was sharp against Heritage, which put pressure on him all night.
Margeson completed five of his first six passes for 74 yards, including a 9-yard TD pass to Rich Fallaw to give DWS a 7-0 lead. Fallaw ended the night with four receptions for 64 yards. Margeson finished the night, completing 7 of 10 for 86 yards and he scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter to lift DWS to a 21-12 lead. He finished his senior year with 1,084 yards and 17 touchdowns in the air.
Dynamite Dozen tailback Kh’Ron McClain had a night he will never forget. The state title had a special meaning for McClain because he wasn’t part of all 48 wins. He played as a freshman then moved with his father in Atlanta when he was a sophomore, before returning last year to what he calls: “The Deerfield Family.”
McClain was in the stands in 2010 when the Knights won the state title, and he celebrated with his friends and teammates on the field afterward. He talked all year about how special it would be to win a state title, saying time and time again that: “It would be a dream come true.”
He was there on the final play of the game, and — along with KE’Marvin Pitts — tipped the pass away.
Then McClain broke down in tears.
The kid they call “K-Rock” ran like a rock against Heritage, amassing 269 yards on 23 carries and scoring on a 33-yard run to give DWS a 14-6 lead and a 70-yard run in the final minute of the third to lift the Knights to a 27-12 lead. He also saved a drive on defense and later set up DWS’ third touchdown with a 61-yard run on a third-and-26 play from the DWS 16. His 70-yarder came on a fourth-and-1 play.
“He’s incredible,’’ said Pitts, who also had a big game, knocking down three big passes and picking off an interception. “He always shows up in the big games and he showed up (against Heritage). He’s just incredible.’’
They won’t forget McClain at DWS. He needed 201 yards in the final to break former Deerfield star Tony Zenon’s single-season school rushing record of 2,268 yards, and McClain eclipsed it, finishing with an almost unheard of 2,336 yards to set a new standard at Deerfield.
McClain was Zenon’s backup in 2009 when Zenon, who is now at Georgia Tech, set the record and was named The Herald’s John Reynolds Player of the Year. They are still good friends, and Zenon called McClain earlier this season after McClain broke Zenon’s regular-season rushing record and points scored record at DWS.
Now he owns the most prestigious record at the school.
“I was never thinking about (the record),” McClain said. “All I was thinking about was winning the game. We just had to win this game. My teammates were congratulating me on the sideline, and I just kept thinking, ‘We have to keep playing hard and win this game.’ ”
Heritage was the best team in Georgia DWS faced all year, and it took an all-out effort from the Knights on defense to stop Heritage and tailback Chandler Rich.
“I thought our defense was exceptional,” Lowe said, and then he added what he always says about a defense that carried Deerfield all season, a group that is coached by Rod Murray and Craig Rhodes.
“Murray and Rhodes did a great job,” Lowe said. “They have done a great job all year with the defense.’’
Heritage‘s offense, which had scored 84 points in the two previous playoff games before meeting Deerfield, scored just twice. The Hawks’ offense scored only 12 points on DWS’ defense and closed to 27-19 on Rich’s 85-yard kickoff return.
There were so many big-time defensive players in the victory, including Forrestal, Pitts, Margeson and McClain. Linebacker Nick Michas, who led all of GISA in tackles this season, had another big game as well, as did DE Coleman Butler and DTs Daniel Cheshire and Westin King, and linebacker Noah Horton.
Defensive end Matthew Fox also had another monster game, despite a nagging ankle injury. He spent most of the night in Heritage’s backfield and had three tackles for losses — including his 13th sack of the season, a DWS record. Fox also owns DWS’ career sack record with 24.
And he’s only a junior.
Not to be left out, Sam Shellhaas had a game for the ages. He seemed to be everywhere, and was at the heart of this win for the Knights.
Shellhaas set up the first points of the game when he blocked a punt to give the Knights the ball at the Heritage 14 in the first quarter, and he swarmed on defense all night, with two plays for losses, including a sack. If that wasn’t enough, Shellhaas came up with an interception to kill a Heritage drive with 6:20 left in the game when the Hawks were driving to tie the score.
Shellhaas even carried the ball and picked up 10 yards on three carries.
It was that kind of night for the Knights, who have now won four state titles, including three in the past five years.
It was even a good night for DWS athletic director and boys basketball coach Gordy Gruhl, who handles the P.A, duties during football games.
When DWS faced the fourth-and-1 at its 30 late in the third quarter, Gruhl looked like a psychic in the press box, where he said before the play, “I think if they pitch it to Kh’Ron here he might just break one and go all the way.”
That’s exactly what happened, and DWS took that 27-12 lead and made it hold up for a state championship.
Ingram rips refs following Indians’ state playoff loss
DONALSONVILLE — Alan Ingram admits he doesn’t like to talk much about officiating after games, but the Seminole County coach couldn’t hold his tongue after Friday’s heartbreaking loss to Dooly County, 34-28, in the GHSA Class A state quarterfinals.
“Those (officials) wanted to play God,” Ingram said, referring to several apparent missed calls at crucial moments at the end of the game.
Several huge calls went against the Indians throughout the game, but a pair of throws into the end zone from Seminole County quarterback Jakhari Martin brought the most ire from the Indians’ sideline.
Thomas Aiken dropped a pass inside the 5-yard line with 11 seconds left, and Shavon Wiggins couldn’t bring down a jump ball in the end zone on the final play of the game.
Ingram said there was obvious pass interference on both plays.
“Thomas got jammed and got the (mess) knocked out of him, and both officials looked right at it. One of them told me, ‘It wasn’t my call, coach,’ ” Ingram said of the first missed call before moving to the next. “Absolutely he was over his back (on the final play of the game). “
The Indians were a play away from extending their incredible season, but Ingram said what he might remember most about the year was “getting screwed by the officials” in the final game.
“I really think we ended up on the short end of it,” he said.
EMOTIONAL GOODBYE: Nine Seminole seniors said goodbye to a storybook season after Friday’s loss, including running back Daquan Hamlet, who spoke to his teammates in the locker room after the game.
“I told them to keep their heads up,” Hamlet said. “Just like this year when nobody thought we could do it, I told them to go out there and prove them wrong again.”
The seniors finished their high school careers with 35-12 records and back-to-back Region 1-A titles.
But because the Indians lost 18 starters from last year’s region championship team, this season’s success meant even more.
“This team goes to show not to let anybody doubt you or underestimate you because you aren’t the star,” Hamlet said. “You play with heart, and look where it put us. Back in the Elite 8.”
Along with Hamlet, the Indians will lose seniors Martin, Wiggins, Jonathan Hudson, Devonte Williams, Jordan Heath, Darius Burr, Alex Koonce and Jordan Davis.
VALWOOD JUST TOO BIG, TOO FAST FOR WESTWOOD: Westwood lost for the first time in the playoffs since 2009 Friday in a 48-13 loss to undefeated Valwood in the GISA Class AA state championship.
The reason was two-fold. The Wildcats, who fell to the Valiants twice this season, couldn’t dominate a much bigger Valwood front line and then couldn’t hit the deep ball over the top when the defense stacked the box to stop the run.
“We didn’t have time,” Westwood head coach Ross Worsham said of the passing game. “We just couldn’t hold them out long enough.”
Quarterback Mitch Good was sacked three times and pressured on nearly every throw, completing just 3 of 9 passes for 31 yards.
Good had a 23-yard scoring run to give the Valiants a 6-0 lead on a drive that covered 57 yards on the ground. Westwood managed just 40 rushing yards the rest of the half after Valwood sold out to stop the run and led, 28-6, at half.
Westwood (11-3) still ran for 206 yards, compared to Valwood’s 328, and Valwood knew it had to stop the run to end the Wildcats’ shot at a three-peat.
“Those are three of the best runners we’ve seen all year,” Valwood head coach Ashely Henderson said of Westwood’s J.T. Edore, Chason Worsham and Good.
Junior Dylon Smith, who had just one carry in the first half, ran for 84 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, to lead the Wildcats.
Even with the loss, Westwood still proved they are a force in GISA Class AA.
“The best team won (Friday),” Worsham said. “What most would have considered a rebuilding year, moving up a class, was not . Our kids have a lot to be proud of. They did come in expecting to win, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Albany Herald sports staff writer John Millikan and Matt Stewart contributed to this report