CORDELE -- Jenkins coach Jason Cameron knew his team was facing a team strikingly similar to his own in the GHSA Class 3A semifinals against a Crisp County squad known for its hard-hitting, swarming defense -- just like the Warriors.
It was a old-fashioned defensive battle Friday night, Dec. 6, and the Cougars came through with a strong second-half effort to beat Jenkins 14-6.
Crisp County (11-3) will face Cedar Grove in the state championship game next week.
Jenkins led 6-0 at the half but couldn't get in a groove offensively after intermission.
Quarterback AJ Lofton had a pair of 5-yard scoring runs late in the third and fourth quarters as Crisp County went up 14-6 with 2:25 left.
The Warriors had one last chance, and Patrick Blake hit Ronald Cooper III for a gain of 18 yards on fourth-and-10, but two plays later Sirad Bryant made an impressive interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Darius Bush to seal the deal for the Cougars.
"We were expecting a low-scoring, defensive game and that's what it was," said Cameron, in his third year as the Warriors' head coach. "Crisp County just made a few more plays than us. It's bittersweet to end the season like this because we were so close to the state championship, but I'm really proud of our program. We're putting Savannah football back on the map."
It was the first trip to the semifinals for Jenkins (12-2) since 1966, and the first state semifinal appearance for a Savannah public school since Savannah High made the Final Four in 1969.
The Warriors set the tone on their first possession when Cameron called for a fake punt facing fourth-and-3 at the Jenkins 27. Bush took the snap and barged forward for a gain of 4 as the Warrior sideline went wild.
Jenkins was forced to punt after that, but the call showed the Warriors were ready for a fight.
The Warriors forced a pair of first half turnovers. At the end of the first quarter, Dajon Morgan pounced on a loose ball after Semaj Chatfield fumbled, but Jenkins couldn't take advantage of a short field and had to punt it away.
Midway through the second quarter, Edward Osborne picked off AJ Lofton and the Warriors started their drive at their own 33-yard line. The Warriors marched 67 yards on 17 plays, getting some help with three facemask calls on the Cougars for 35 yards.
Damozzio Harris finished things off with a 1-yard touchdown plunge up the middle, but John Seidensticker's extra point was no good as Jenkins took a 6-0 lead with 1:05 left.
Crisp County had a chance to score at the end of the half, but Connor Richmond's 44-yard field-goal attempt was tipped at the line by Taurus Simmons and never had a chance.
Harris rushed for a rugged 84 yards on 18 carries with the touchdown. He finished the season with 1,740 yards and 27 touchdowns. The junior said he and his teammates that return next season won't forget this loss.
"I hate this feeling," Harris said. "We'll use this to motivate us for next year."
Blake was 10 of 22 passing for 101 yards and the interception in the final minute.
Crisp County junior Lofton rushed for 90 yards and the two scores on 18 carries, and senior Marquise Palmer had 123 yards on 22 carries for the Cougars. Linebackers Christopher Paul Jr., Jayren Fox and Nick Mercer led the Crisp County defense.
It's the first trip to the state finals in Crisp Count history. Brad Harber, in his third year leading the team, was beaming with pride after the game.
"I thought it was a team effort on our end," Harber said. "We got some big defensive stops on third downs and some big plays to keep drives going with our offense.
"We knew how good Jenkins' defense was. They were the top-ranked defense in Class 3A for a reason. Coach Cameron has done a great job with that team. When we looked at their film, we realized we were almost the exact same teams."
It was an emotional moment after the game as seniors such as Simmons (a West Virginia commitment), Akelo Stone (Georgia Tech) and Cooper (U.S. Naval Academy) walked off the field for a final time.
"It's tough to end the season like this," said senior Joah Cash, a highly-recruited linebacker. "But I'm proud of how we clicked from the jump. I knew we were going to be special from the start, and I love my boys."