The first state playoff game ever played on Jeff Sims Field featured several big plays, and virtually all of them went the way of the Troup Tigers.
In an eight-minute span between the second and third quarters, the Tigers struck for four touchdowns, three of which were 49 yards or more in length, and the visitors from LaGrange went on to a 31-7 victory in the opening round of the Class AAAA playoffs and ended the most successful season in Heritage Generals history with a 9-2 record.
"Each year, everybody but one team finishes their season with a loss," an emotional head coach E.K. Slaughter said. "It's tough, but this senior class has just been amazing and really fun to coach. They're awesome people and they've had a big impact on me."
On a cold night with wet and sloppy field conditions, both defenses bowed their backs throughout much of the first half.
Heritage had the better of it in the first quarter, twice getting deep in Troup territory. But a questionable no-call on what Heritage players, coaches and fans believed was pass interference on fourth down in the endzone ended one drive. Later, the Tigers blitzed to throw Luke Grant for an 11-yard loss on fourth down after the Generals had driven from their own 19 to the Tigers' 31-yard line.
A 27-yard Carson Wreyford field goal finally got the Tigers (9-2) on the board with 7:00 left in the half. But after an exchange of punts, the Troup defense came up with an interception by Devon Hill with 1:06 to go after a Heritage receiver fell down. Two plays later, quarterback Montez Crowe hit Jamari Thrash for a 49-yard score on a deep sideline route and Wreyford's PAT increased the lead to 10-0.
The Generals tried to answer in the final seconds of the half. A Johnathan Hickman kick return gave Heritage possession at the Troup 39 with 39 seconds remaining. They would drive to the Tigers' 11 with four seconds left, but Denis Viars would come up miss left on a 28-yard field goal try, keeping the margin at 10 points going into the locker room.
The Generals punted the Tigers back to their own 11 to start the third quarter and the defense threw Tyree Carlisle for a two-yard loss on the first play. However, the second play was a wheel route that Carlisle caught in stride for a backbreaking 91-yard scoring strike.
Three plays later, Kobe Hudson would pick off a Blake Bryan pass and the Tigers needed just six plays to cover 26 yards. Trey Williams did the honors on a one-yard run and, following another punt, Crowe hit Mark Anthony Dixon on a crossing route that the sophomore converted into a 65-yard score. Wreyford's fourth and final extra point gave Troup a commanding 31-0 lead with 4:17 to go in the third.
Heritage would finally get on the board on the final play of the third quarter. After recovering a Tiger fumble at the Troup 10, a penalty moved the ball halfway to the goal line before C.J. Shackleford plowed his way for the final touchdown of the night.
The Generals would recover the ensuing onside kick and moved the ball inside the Troup 30, but the final scoring threat of the night would stall out as the Tigers defense stopped Bryan on back-to-back sneaks to prevent a first down.
"We had some chance to put some pressure on, but we couldn't quite get over the hump," Slaughter said. "There were just too many mistakes early. If we could have gotten some pressure on them, it might have been a different game. We made a lot of plays between the 30 (yard lines), but we couldn't make that play to get it in the endzone.
"(Troup) is a good football team with a really good defense, though. Just about every game this year, they've held opponents to 14 points or less."
Crowe, who entered the game with 3,215 yards passing this season added 336 more to that total on 11-of-26 attempts. Dixon had five catches for 119 yards, followed by Carlisle with an even 100 yards on just two catches. Hudson had five grabs for 83 yards, while the 49-yard TD was Thrash's only catch of the night.
Bryan was 23-for-45 for 246 yards, while Grant led the Heritage receivers with 118 yards on 11 carries, putting the senior over 1,000 yards for the season. Ryan Carter had seven catches for 56 yards, while Noah Boaz had four catches for 59 yards.
Carter added an interception on defense, while Zach Goins recorded 2.5 sacks. Both teams were limited to just 44 yards on the ground. Troup carried 30 times, while Heritage finished with 29 rushing attempts.
"We were down one of our better two-way players tonight," Slaughter added. "(Jeffery) Curtis really couldn't go and Luke tweaked his ankle in the third quarter. It avalanched pretty quickly there. Our defense was playing lights out and gave us a chance, but we just couldn't quite get it done."
Troup will travel to Region 8 champion St. Pius X next week.
Region 5 went 3-1 against Region 6 in Friday's opening round. Cartersville beat Pickens, 48-21, and Cedartown handled Northwest Whitfield, 47-14. The lone win for Region 6 came courtesy of region champ Ridgeland, who played without the services of top running back Jalyn Shelton (ankle) and still pulverized Chapel Hill, 63-7.
Shelton is expected to play next Friday night as the Panthers entertain Jefferson.