The Road to Atlanta ran out of real estate in Fort Valley. Guided by a consistent offense and stifling defense, the Peach County Trojans (11-1) shut out the Calhoun Yellow Jackets (10-2), 35-0 at Peach County High School Friday. The loss ends Clay Stephenson’s first year at the helm of the program, but the first-year head coach shared an important message with his team following the game.
“I told them I loved them. I was proud of them,” Stephenson said. “Calhoun Football is always going to be more than wins and losses. We want to make sure they’re good people, good husbands, good fathers one day and that’s not going to change because of a win or a loss.”
Peach County received the ball to start the game and quickly asserted itself on its home turf. Senior quarterback Jaydon Gibson recorded the game’s first points with a 22-yard run on third-and-10 for a 6-0 edge.
Passing-wise, Gibson finished 13-of-15 for 154 yards.
Senior running back Noah Whittington then took to the stage. Whittington carried the ball 18 times for 162 yard and three touchdowns. He capped off his successful night with a 74-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter, stretching the Peach County lead to 35-0.
The story of the game was third down. Peach County converted 8-for-12, while Calhoun was 0-for-6.
Defensively, the Trojans were juggernauts, holding the Yellow Jackets to just 40 yards through 48 minutes and one first down gained via offensive movement. Calhoun did not record a first down until the 7:52 mark of the third quarter.
“They’re a very good football team,” Stephenson said. “Every position on the field they’re good and we knew we had to take some shots and it just didn’t work out today.”
All five of Peach county’s touchdowns came via the ground game. The shut-out loss is Calhoun’s first since 2016, when the Jackets fell to Cartersville 56-0.
For the seniors on Yellow Jackets’ roster, their careers come to a close. The Class of 2019 reached the playoffs all four years, achieving ultimate glory in 2017 by defeating Peach County, 10-6, at newly-christened Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the school’s fourth state championship.
“I told them I was just proud of them,” Stephenson said. “They went through a lot. Having new head coach and six or seven new coaches, they could’ve kind of not bought in, but they did the very first day. They jump right in there and work their tails off and had a great year.”
Despite the way the season ended, Stephenson said he’ll remember this senior class the most when looking back on 2019.
“As coaches, we get senior years every year and they know they only get one,” Stephenson said. “We work our tails off to give them the best chance to be successful so that’s what I’ll remember.”
Calhoun Football has now played its last game in 3A. Starting next year, the Yellow Jackets will suit up in Region 7 of Class 5A, alongside Blessed Trinity, Cartersville, Cass, Hiram and Woodland (Cartersville).