Already secure in the knowledge that they would be in the state playoffs for the first time since 2012 and host a first-round game for the first time since 2007, it would have been easy for the Gordon Lee Trojans to put it on cruise control in the regular season finale on Friday in order to make sure everyone was ready to go for the postseason.
But with a chance to tie for the best regular season record in school history and an opportunity to end eight years of frustration against their most bitter rival, cruise control simply wasn't an option.
Instead, the Trojans planted their foot firmly on the accelerator all night long and snapped their losing streak to Trion with a 50-13 blowout victory at Sam R. McCain Stadium in the 2020 version of Georgia's oldest and most continuously-played series.
The 50 points were the most ever scored by a Gordon Lee team against Trion in the history of the rivalry, which dates back to 1933, and the 37-point win was the second-largest margin over victory ever for the Trojans over the Bulldogs, topped only by a 46-6 Gordon Lee victory in 1937, according to records compiled by the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
"Our kids played great," GL head coach Josh Groce said afterward. "We had a great week of practice and this was an easy week to have a great week of practice. The kids were excited about this one and I didn't have to say much to get them motivated."
It was another huge week for Gordon Lee's ground attack as the offensive line paved the way for seven different running backs to rack up 405 yards on 54 carries with over half the yardage coming on the legs of Cade Peterson.
The senior had another monster night with 26 rushes for 249 yards and four touchdowns, including a breakaway 50-yard scoring run on his final touch of the game with 3:31 to play.
Peterson, who was the leading rusher in the entire Class A Public School division entering Friday and ninth overall in the state in all classifications, according to Georgia High School Football Daily, now has 1,581 rushing yards headed into the playoffs next week. That should be enough to put him in or near the top five in the state overall.
It also puts him within striking distance of Drew Cobb's school-record 1,761 rushing yards, set back in 2016. Cobb set that mark in just 10 games that season with nine games over 100 yards and four games of 200 or more yards.
"He's unreal," Groce said of Peterson. "He's just a workhorse and, like I tell the kids, it's what he does off the field that makes him so successful on the field. Just like (earlier) today, he was killing it in the weight room. He never gives up and he's the hardest-working kid I've coached in a long time."
The Trojans (9-1, 4-1) took a 14-0 lead after one quarter on a 29-yard TD run by Peterson and a 16-yard burst by Nate Dunfee with 19 seconds left in the opening quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Trion would get a 38-yard pass from Logan Eller to Nathan Willingham to finally get in Gordon Lee territory midway through the second quarter. A 10-yard defensive holding call on the Trojans set up a 19-yard TD run by Rob Brown one play later, cutting the lead to 14-6.
But Gordon Lee immediately answered. A 24-yard reception by Dunfee and a 43-yard run by Peterson helped set up a 1-yard plunge by Brody Cobb with 4:44 left in the half. Then, after forcing a turnover on downs at their own 36, the Trojans needed just five plays to get back on the board. A huge 55-yard, third-down catch by tight end Will Carswell was cashed in with a 3-yard TD run by Peterson with 28 seconds left in the half, giving the visitors from Chickamauga a 28-6 lead at intermission.
Trion (3-7, 1-4) had a brief glimmer of hope early in the third quarter. They forced a Gordon Lee fumble on the second play of the half and Brown scampered 21 yards two plays later to make it a 28-13 ballgame. However, two costly 15-yard penalties on the Bulldogs aided the Trojans' next possession as Cobb got loose for a 20-yard scoring run with 7:15 left in the period.
Gordon Lee's next possession took over six minutes off the clock and covered 70 yards, only to see Trion make a fourth-down stop inside the 5-yard line. But just two plays later, a bad snap led to Eller getting sacked in the endzone for a safety. The Trojans would quickly get in the endzone following the free kick as Trion had two big penalties worth 25 yards before Peterson danced across the goal line from six yards out with exactly 8:00 to play.
"We came out a little too excited, maybe, there to start the second half and did some things we don't normally do," Groce said. "But we settled down after that and started playing the way we're capable of playing."
Cobb finished with 69 yards on 11 carries and Dunfee picked up 43 yards on just three carries. Dunfee also added 31 more yards on two catches as quarterback Blake Groce went 3 of 5 for 86 yards. Montgomery Kephart was 6 of 7 on extra points and Kameron Oliver had one solo sack.
Brown ended the night with 97 yards on 21 carries for the Bulldogs, but was held to 24 yards on just five attempts in the second half. Eller went 6 of 10 in the air for 65 yards, while Willingham had two catches for 45 yards.
Gordon Lee will now turn its attention to Georgia Military College Prep, who will come to Chickamauga next Friday night after earning the No. 3 seed from Region 7.
"We'll watch film and try and come up with a good gameplan and the kids will have to execute it," Groce added. "We knew we couldn't look past (Trion), but now that it's over, we can look toward that first round, find a way to stop them and hopefully put some more points up on the board."
Should Gordon Lee beat GMC, they would either host Manchester, the No. 4 seed from Region 5, or travel to face Region 8 champion Commerce on Dec. 4.