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All year long, Coffee head coach Mike Coe has said that his defense doesn’t flinch. They’ve given up big plays from time to time. But when that happens, someone always steps up and makes a play to keep the other team from capitalizing.
It happened again Friday night. After a shaky first half that saw the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes down 17-0 at the break, the ‘Canes came out with a renewed sense of urgency and attacked the Coffee Trojans from every angle. They ran. They threw. They moved up and down the field, sometimes seemingly at will.
And they scored.
But they didn’t win.
The Trojans built a commanding lead at halftime, added to that lead on the first possession of the third quarter and slipped out of Cartersville with a 33-18 win, a 14-0 record, and a showdown with the Creekside Seminoles in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, for the Class 5A state title.
Friday’s semifinal matchup with the Purple Hurricanes was Coffee’s fourth semifinal appearance in program history, the second in the last three years, and the first under second-year head coach Coe.
“It was ugly in the second half at times. But when we had to have a play, they made a play. You can’t worry about a scoreboard or the results. You worry about the work. Work wins and those kids right there are hard workers. I don’t know that we’re as gifted as they are. We sure aren’t as big. But I can tell you this — our kids are tough as nails and they’re in great shape,” said Coach Coe after the game.
Last year, these same two teams faced each other in the quarterfinals. At the end of the first quarter, the Purple Hurricanes were in control 21-0. They held a 42-14 lead at halftime and cruised to a 56-28 win to eliminate the Trojans for the second time in three years.
This year, however, was a different story.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. Coffee had its back to the proverbial wall for the first two possessions of the game. Finally, the third time the Trojans had the ball, they had a little breathing room. Late in the quarter, Coffee took over on their own 34 after a Purple Hurricanes’ punt. Maurice Hansley and company kept the ball on the ground and pounded the Cartersville defense down the field. The first quarter ended on the drive and a few plays after flipping the field, running back Fred Brown bounced to the outside for a five-yard score. A minute into the second quarter, the Trojans were up 7-0.
Coffee held Cartersville on their next possession and forced another punt. The Trojan offense took over on their own 28 and ran it right at the defense. A pitch to Pat McCall ate up a lot of ground for Coffee and put the Trojans at the Purple Hurricanes’ nine. Brown took a handoff and went to his left and appeared to score a touchdown. But right at the goal line, Brown hurdled a Cartersville defender — just like he’s done all season long. This time, though, an official threw a flag and brought the play back.
A few plays (and penalties) later, the Trojans stalled. On fourth and goal from the 10, kicker Jonah Saylor trotted out for a 27-yard field goal. His leg was true and the Trojans had a 10-0 lead with 5:58 remaining in the second quarter.
After holding the ‘Canes again, Coffee added scored its second touchdown, this time on another pitch to McCall. He took the ball 39 yards to the end zone for a score to put the Trojans up 17-0. Cartersville ran out the clock and headed to the locker room with a shutout looming.
The Trojans made matters worse for the ‘Canes when they took the opening kick of the third quarter and set out on another 80-yard drive that included a successful fourth down conversion before Brown scored again, this time from the six. Just over three minutes had expired in the third quarter and Coffee had stretched its lead to 24-0.
But quarterback Andrew Purdy and his offense weren’t ready to give up yet. Set up by a big run from Khristian Lando, Purdy hit tight end Connor Brasfield for a 48-yard touchdown to give the Purple Hurricanes some life. Cartersville opted for a two-point conversion but did not make it. The score was now 24-6 with 7:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Undaunted, the Trojans answered. Starting at their own 20 yet again, the Coffee offense rumbled downfield, chewing up yards and punishing the Cartersville defense along the way. The drive ended with Anthony Paulk’s short dash into the end zone. With Saylor’s extra point (he was perfect on the night), Coffee had a 31-6 advantage with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
The ‘Canes, however, still had plenty of fight left. A good return gave Purdy the ball at Cartersville’s 39. And he didn’t waste any time. He fed the ball to Lando, who ripped off a 51-yard run to the Coffee 10. A play or two later, Purdy scored on a seven-yard keeper. The Purple Hurricanes again went for two — and again they were unsuccessful. With a little time left in the third quarter, things started getting tense for the Trojans. They were up 31-12 but that lead seemed a lot less stable than it had just a few minutes prior.
This time, Cartersville’s defense stiffened and forced a Coffee punt. McCale Smith’s punt went into the end zone, pinning the ‘Canes at their own 20. Though the Trojans had punted, they had kept the ball for a long time. Purdy and his troops had to make up 19 points in a little over seven minutes.
They wasted no time in letting Coffee know the game wasn’t over yet. Lando exploded through the line for another big gain, getting to the Coffee 25. On the next play, Richard Houston found the end zone for another Cartersville touchdown. The Purple Hurricanes had gone 80 yards in two plays and had cut Coffee’s lead to 12. They went for two for a third time — and for a third time, they were unsuccessful. The score was 31-18 with 7:28 remaining.
The ‘Canes went for an onside kick that Coffee’s Daniel Gowen recovered at midfield. The Trojans had a short field, plenty of time on the clock, and another score would have effectively ended the game.
But something happened that could have changed the outcome of the whole game. Early in the drive, Reed Ezell forced Brown to fumble. Brasfield recovered the fumble and took off downfield before Brady Shook eventually brought him down.
However, officials ruled that Brown was on the ground when the ball popped out. They gave the ball back to the Trojans but the drive stalled and Coffee had to punt.
Cartersville couldn’t maintain the momentum from its previous drives. Despite converting a long third down, they too saw a drive fizzle out. With under four minutes left, the ‘Canes found themselves facing a fourth and one around midfield. They had been making play after play after play. It seemed all but a given that they would get the first down.
The Coffee defense had other plans.
The Trojans stuffed Cartersville and took over on downs with 3:44 remaining. A couple of plays into the drive, Brown broke a 40-yard touchdown but officials nullified the score on a block in the back penalty. The drive ended with another Smith punt. And it was a beauty, rolling dead at the Cartersville three yard line.
Even though only 34 seconds remained and Coffee had a 13-point lead, the fireworks weren’t over yet. Purdy took the snap and tried to throw out of his own end zone. Nose guard Iverson Gifford made into the backfield and went after Purdy. Right as Gifford brought him down, Purdy fired the ball downfield. Officials called an intentional grounding infraction, which resulted in a safety. The extra points gave Coffee a 33-18 lead with 19 seconds left.
And that’s how the game would end. Creekside defeated Jefferson in the other semifinal game Friday night, setting up a Coffee v. Creekside showdown for the state title on December 13 at 4 p.m. in Mercedes Benz Stadium. Coffee and Creekside have played each other once before — in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Creekside won 28-18.
DouglasNow will post more details regarding the state championship game once they are related.
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