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The Coffee Trojans have been waiting a year to get some revenge on the Ware County Gators. Friday night, they had their opportunity.
And they didn’t waste it.
The Trojans throttled the Gators 28-5 in Waycross to finish the season undefeated and win the fifth region championship in school history. The 2023 team joins the 1981, 1982, 2002, and 2015 teams as the only ones to win region titles. They are in even more rarified air as they accompany the 1976 and 1982 squads as the only teams to go undefeated in the regular season.
“Unbelievable. These kids. These coaches. These fans. Listen, these kids have never faltered all year long — Bainbridge, Bolles, the bad start to the second half tonight. They believed. They’re a special group of young men,” said a very happy head coach Mike Coe after the game.
Even though the Trojans mixed things up a little early on — Coffee’s first play from scrimmage was a long flea flicker to James Jarrard that set up a nine-yard touchdown run by Fred Brown then later on the Trojans successfully converted a fake punt — they won the old fashioned way.
The Trojans beat the Gators into submission.
At the end of the night, Coffee had relied on its bread and butter: A physical, brutal defense and a bruising ground attack that kept the Ware defense on its heels all night.
Ware came into the game with a wide open offense. Their quarterback, Luke Hooks, leads the region in passing and has been very efficient all season long. But he hadn’t faced a defense like Coffee’s. Hooks and company never could extend drives and capitalize on the few mistakes that the Trojans made. Coach Coe attributed that in large part to the work the scout team did this week in practice. “Man, our scout teams this week. The did an incredible job. They gave us unbelievable looks all week long,” he said.
Coffee opened the game with the aforementioned flea flicker then touchdown by Brown. On Ware’s ensuing possession, the Gators came out firing on all cylinders and it looked like it might be a long night for the Trojans. Their first three plays resulted in three first downs and put them deep in Coffee territory. A pass interference call made matters worse and a touchdown looked like all but a formality.
Someone forgot to tell the defense that.
Anchored by big plays from Elgie Paulk and Jayden Hancock, the Trojans forced the Gators to kick a short field goal. With 4:30 left in the first quarter, Coffee had a 7-3 lead.
The Trojans’ next possession ended in a punt. But senior punter Mikale Smith pinned Ware at their own one yard line. That ended in disaster for the Gators. Hooks tried to throw out of his own end zone on the first play and Isaiah Johnson jumped the route, picked off the pass, and waltzed in untouched for a touchdown. Just 21 seconds into the second quarter, Coffee had a 14-3 lead.
As the quarter wore on, there were some interesting moments but none that resulted in points. Ware’s punter had a snap fly over his head but he was able to pick up the ball and successfully boot it downfield. On that possession, the Trojans had to punt but a Ware defender ran into Smith. The penalty gave Coffee a few yards but not a first down. Coach Coe called for a fake punt; the snap went to Tyrese Hansley who picked up the first down. In the end, though, the Trojans ran out of downs and had to punt again.
Later in the quarter, Ware rolled the dice on fourth and two and, predictably, Coffee’s defense held. The Trojans took over with 2:51 left in the half. That drive also resulted in a punt. Ware got the ball back with 79 seconds remaining but couldn’t do anything, either.
The Gators took the kick to open the third quarter but as was the case all game, couldn’t do much. The Coffee offense, meanwhile, ran into a buzz saw in the third quarter. A series of false starts backed up the Trojans to almost their own goal line. Smith was called upon to punt again but the snap sailed over his head and out of the end zone for a safety. That gave Ware two much needed points and a huge shift in momentum. They got another surge when their return man took the ensuing kick to Coffee’s 25.
Once again, though, the Trojan defense stiffened. The Gators couldn’t move the ball and found themselves facing a fourth and 11 from the Coffee 26. Instead of opting for a field goal they went for it. Hooks threw to junior receiver Jasper Bolds in the end zone but his throw was long. A Coffee defender caught the ball but he did so out of the end zone. That stop, which came with 1:36 left in the third quarter, effectively shut down Ware.
Early in the fourth quarter, facing another fourth down, the Gators attempted a fake punt of their own. It was unsuccessful and the Trojan offense trotted on the field with the ball at Ware’s 43 and 10:20 remaining in the game.
The Gator defense had been on the field all night long. The Trojans had beaten and battered them every step of the way. By this stage, they had very little resistance left. Maurice Hansley and company marched down the field, brutalizing the Gators even more as they went. The drive ended with Maurice Hansley diving across the goal line from the one for a Coffee touchdown that all but sealed the victory and the region title. With 7:04 left in the game, the Trojans were up 21-5.
To make matters worse for the Gators, the ensuing kick resulted in a fumble that Coffee recovered. The Ware defense returned to the field, demoralized and shaken. Their opponents showed no mercy. The Trojans were facing a fourth and five from the 18 and opted to go for it. Tyrese Hansley took the handoff from his brother and raced in for the score. There were four minutes, 55 seconds left on the clock and the score was 28-5. Even though the game had practically been over since the third quarter, it really was over now.
The 2023 Coffee Trojans finish the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record and the first region championship in eight years. Coffee will face the Chamblee Bulldogs next Friday night at Jardine Stadium. The Trojans and Bulldogs have faced each other once before — in the regular season at Jardine Stadium back in 2018. Coffee won 53-0.
When asked about winning the program’s fifth region championship, Coach Coe replied, “I’m not worried about that right now. It’s the first one in 2023.”
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