High expectations. Hope. Great seasons. Champions. Playoffs. Legacy. Disappointment. Sadness. Shock. This is how the Georgia Bulldogs and Athens Academy Spartans seasons went. Both teams had high expectations going into the season. The Kirby Smart led Bulldogs were a little bit disappointed with Smart and is first year at the helm, going 8-5. The Spartans had a promising year in the beginning of 2016, winning the first 8 games of the season, but lost 3 of the last 4 games, including a second round playoff exit after losing at Mount Paran Christian, 17 to 10. People around Athens expected this to be a pretty good season for both the Spartans and the Dawgs, but nothing quite like we got from both teams.
The Bulldogs lost their starter at quarterback, Jacob Eason, on the third series of the season when he landed awkwardly on his left knee in the first game of the year versus Appalachian State. A young, true freshman QB named Jake Fromm went into the game and led the team to a 31 to 10 victory. It was a blessing in disguise, as Fromm threw for over 2,000 yards and led the team to a 12 and 2 record as a starter. The team won the first eight games and was ranked #1, but a humiliating loss at Auburn knocked the Dawgs out of the playoff. The team won the last 2 regular season games and set up to play Auburn again after they knocked off #1 Alabama in their final regular season game to win the SEC West. Georgia dominated the second meeting and the final score was 28 to 7. The next day, the college football playoff committee ranked Georgia #3 as they headed to California to the Rose Bowl, to have a date with Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners. The Dawgs were down by 2 touchdowns at half and outscored the Sooners 28 to 14 in the second half to force Overtime. The teams traded Field Goals in OT and Georgia won the game in Double Overtime after a Oklahoma field goal was blocked and Georgia scored a touchdown on the 2nd play of their drive and won 54-48 to go the National Championship the next week against the Alabama. As we all watched Alabama win in Overtime, we thought about how this program played in the last 2 years.
On the other hand, Acad has been a 1A football power for a while, but has 0 state championships to show for it. Athens Academy started the year strong, with 7 easy W’s to start the year. 3 good solid wins against our rivals George Walton, Commerce, and Prince Avenue brought Acad to playoffs with zero losses and a #2 overall seed in the 1A Private Tournament. The Spartans easily won their first two playoff games against First Presbyterian Day and Savannah Country day. This meant a semifinal matchup for the ages as the Spartans hosted the #3 seed Mount Paran Christian, the same team that beat them the year before in the playoffs. The Spartans, down 7 to nothing at half, scored on a long touchdown drive to start the 2nd half. After George Smith’s 20 yard scoop and score, the Spartans took the lead and held on for dear life. With 4 seconds left, the Spartan’s punt was blocked, but went out of bounds with no time left and the Spartans won 14 to 7. This meant an early Friday morning trip the next Friday to play #1 seed Eagles Landing Christian Academy, a top 10 team in all of state. (Acad was ranked in the 40’s in the overall state rankings, according to Maxpreps.) As the Spartans left for ATL on Thursday, there was a sense of a chance to win, but at the same time, considering the other team highlighted how difficult it would be. At 10 AM the next morning, Spartan parents, students, and fans packed the lower level of Mercedes Benz Stadium for the matchup with Eagles Landing. As snow fell on the ground outside the stadium, the Spartans couldn’t get any offense going and the defense couldn’t stop the run. By half, it was 27 to nothing. The Eagles kept shoving down the Spartans throat until late in the 4th quarter when it was 41 to nothing. As the Spartans scored a meaningless field goal with 1 minute left, ELCA give up their first points of the entire playoffs. The Spartans lost 41 to 3. ELCA had more first downs than Acad had yards, meaning Acad had zero first downs on the game.
I, a student and fan, recognize that we have gotten so far beyond what were “supposed” to do in the last 3 seasons. Under Josh Alexander, the Spartans have had a 9 win season every year. Alexander’s record at Acad is pretty solid: 31 wins, only 6 losses. Kirby’s is pretty solid in 2 years as the Georgia coach: 21 wins, only 7 losses.
So, before you say that both teams blew it in the championship, think about how far we have gotten in last 3 years in Acad and Georgia football. We hope to see you in the championship next year, Spartans and Dawgs.