The No. 2-ranked Yellow Jackets’ defense stood strong in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Class AA semifinal contest against No. 4 Callaway to come away with a 28-22 victory, sending the Yellow Jackets to the state championship game for the first time since 1954.
“I can’t put it into words,” Rockmart head coach Biff Parson said. “The joy these boys have brought this community is undeniable right now. It means everything. When you set goals, 99 percent of teams don’t’ get to reach that goal of competing for a state championship. We get to do that right now, so it’s special.”
The Jackets’ historic run will bring them to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta where they will face Heard County on Dec. 12 at 1 p.m.
“We’re making history,” running back Zabrion Whatley said. “I’m excited. I feel like we can win it all.”
The Yellow Jackets (14-0) came into the fourth quarter leading 21-20, and quickly expanded their lead when Javin Whatley scored on an 8-yard run to push their lead to 28-20. Callaway, however, was able to make it a one-score game when the defense hit Markus Smith in the end zone for a safety with 6:39 left to play, making the score 28-22.
Callaway then drove down to the Jackets’ 6-yard line, but the Jackets dug in and didn’t give as the Cavaliers were forced to turn the ball over on the 5-yard line.
“These kids are resilient,” Parson said. “I told them during the whole week that our defense has got to find five big stops and we found it. That’s a very talented team, and to put our defense in the position the way they did and us come up was huge. They always say defenses win state championships, and that’s what this is — championship defense.”
After the turnover, Rockmart looked to have the win sealed up, but when Callaway’s Jalin Shephard intercepted quarterback Dylan Bailey, it gave the Cavaliers (11-3) one last shot at the win. It also gave the Jackets’ defense another chance to shine.
After a 15-yard pass brought the Cavaliers to the Jackets’ 16-yard line, Rockmart senior defensive back Logan Burge saved the win for the Jackets with an interception, shutting down Callaway for good.
“This is a special bunch,” Parson said. “It’s not going to sink in until after the season. We’re going to enjoy this ride, and we’ve got to prepare to win a state championship.”
The Yellow Jackets took a 14-10 lead into halftime, with both touchdowns by Smith, who scored on runs of 4 and 5 yards. The senior running back finished with 91 yards on 16 carries. Zabrion Whatley finished with 67 yards on eight carries.
Bailey finished with 40 yards through the air, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Reed Couch that put the Jackets up 21-17 in the third quarter.
Cartavious Bigsby led the ground game for the Cavaliers with 197 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Most of Bigsby’s yards came from a 64-yard touchdown run and a 69-yard run.