ATLANTA – Rockmart’s 61-year wait for its next shot at a football state championship didn’t end how the Jackets wanted.
Despite the efforts of a defense that challenged Heard County’s high-performing offense, Rockmart failed to gain any momentum through the first three quarters of the Class AA state championship game and fell 27-6 to the Braves at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Yellow Jackets’ efforts to bring a state championship back to Rockmart came up short, but head coach Biff Parson said he hopes his team can move past the hurt and focus on what they have accomplished over the last three seasons.
“It’s a special season,” Parson said. “Right now it’s muddy. The eyes are teary. They’re hurting and there’s emotions, and I get it. But at the end of the day the sun will rise, and they’ll look back and see the difference they made at this school and this community.”
Even without the state title, the Yellow Jackets still made history by racking up more wins than any Rockmart team, finishing with a 14-1 record and winning the Region 7-AA championship for the second year in a row.
The Jackets’ trip Wednesday to the state title game was the first for the school since 1957, with Rockmart’s last, and only, state title coming in 1950. The Braves’ win gives Heard County its first state championship since it opened in 1972.
“It means a lot to us,” Rockmart senior running back Markus Smith said. “We came in our freshman year at 2-8, and coach Parson comes in and tells you he’s going to change the culture and change the community. Look where we’re at now, so it means a lot. It hurts right now, but we know things will get better. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
The Jackets’ defense came out strong in the first half, with Paine Culver intercepting Heard County quarterback Alijah Huzzie just before the end of the first quarter.
Rockmart’s defense also forced a turnover on downs on a fourth-and-2 with the Braves in Rockmart territory in the second quarter. However the Jackets’ offense wasn't able to take advantage of either opportunity and the team went into halftime down 8-0.
Kieron Roberts led the Rockmart defense with 7.5 total tackles. Logan Burge had 3.5 total tackles and a sack for a loss of 8 yards. Roberts and Ant Lester were both credited with a sack for a loss of 6 yards.
“The defense played extremely well because we put them in some bad situations,” Parson said. “The kids played hard and gave us a chance. There at the end it just kind of got out of hand, and the emotion of the game played a part in that.”
Juke Boozer’s 21-yard touchdown reception thrown by quarterback Dylan Bailey got the Yellow Jackets on the scoreboard with 3:53 left to play in the game. Rockmart went for two, but the pass attempt by Javin Whatley failed to make it 27-6.
Boozer finished with five receptions for 100 yards, including back-to-back catches in the third quarter for 29 and 38 yards respectively. Bailey was 9 for 20 for 114 yards. Zabrion Whatley led the ground game with 32 yards on 11 carries.
Both teams managed less than 60 yards of offense in the first half, but the Braves were able to wear down the Jackets’ defense in the second half while Rockmart’s offense continued to struggle.
“The bottom line is when you’re playing big games you’ve got to block and tackle, and we didn’t do that very well today,” Parson said. “For whatever reason I feel like we picked the wrong time to have our worst game. It’s just a football game, but we hate that we lost. We wanted to be 15-0, we wanted to be a state champion, but we’ll learn from this.”
The Braves (13-2) relied mostly on the running game of Huzzie and Tennessee commit Aaron Beasley. Beasley, who didn’t play in the Week 4 contest that Rockmart won 33-0, rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
Beasley’s 2-yard run in the first quarter gave the Braves an 8-0 lead, which they took into halftime. Huzzie scored on a pair of 1-yard runs in the second half to put the Braves up 20-0, and Beasley scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth to seal the win.