McDONOUGH - Through the good and the bad, the Darlington football team never gave up in a season that could have been over nearly as soon as it had begun.
So when the moment came Friday night when the clock read zeroes for the final time, the Tigers’ players and coaches found the positives despite their road in the GHSA state playoffs coming to an end.
The No. 10 Tigers fell on the road to top-ranked Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy 42-6 in the quarterfinals of the Class A Private state playoffs.
The seniors have led the Tigers to consecutive quarterfinal appearances, and have been to the playoffs in all four seasons of its career.
“It’s been a great year,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said. “This senior class is not full of superstars. It’s just full of a bunch of guys that love to play football and hard-nosed kids and they've got a lot to be proud of. This bunch has a lot of character. We talked at halftime that regardless of the score, let’s go out on our terms. Let’s go out and play the way that we play. Let’s make sure we finish this thing well, regardless of the score. We’re down 42-0 and we still have a sideline over there full of enthusiasm.”
Senior defensive standout Tommy Atha, the son of the head coach, looks back with fondness on his final season with the Tigers.
“It’s been the most fun I’ve had,” the player said. “All the years I’ve been at Darlington have been a great time. We’ve got Tate Ratledge and some big guys, but for the most part, we don’t have any over-the-top guys. We’re just playing together. We played as a team, and that’s more than I could’ve asked for as a senior this year.”
The Tigers hit a wall in their final game of the season against the three-time state champion Chargers. Keaton Mitchell, the leading rusher for Eagle’s Landing (11-1) was mostly unstoppable putting up 168 yards and scoring four touchdowns. The Chargers rolled up 441 yards of offense, while holding Darlington to 62 yards.
“That’s just tough to compete with,” head coach Tommy Atha said. “They’re big on both sides of the ball, and they’ve got athletes everywhere. You’ve got to be perfect. There’s no margin for error. We made some mistakes in this football game, and you can’t do that against a team like that.”
The Tigers (9-3) tried to get a run game going, but the Chargers’ defense stopped them in their tracks, holding Darlington to 42 yards on the ground. Senior running back Kolin Rogers, who has been a force for the Tigers all season, couldn’t break through the Charges’ defensive line finishing with 19 yards.
The Tigers put together a strong drive that began near the end of the first quarter. Already down 29-0, quarterback Frank Manning, who took over for starting quarterback Griffin Brewster after he was injured in the second week of the season, tried to lead the Tigers downfield when he crossed into Chargers’ territory on a 12-yard run. Manning hit Karl Swiger on a 12-yard pass, and a penalty against the Chargers on the next play put the Tigers in the red zone. An 8-yard run from Demetrius Rogers put the Tigers on the 1-yard line, but Kolin Rogers came up short of the end zone.
Kobe Nadu got the Tigers on the scoreboard when he recovered an Eagle’s Landing fumble and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
The Chargers advance to the Final Four where they will face Savannah Christian on the road next Friday.