Injuries and a punishing rush defense by Stephens County took their toll on the Rockmart Yellow Jackets on Friday night as the Region 6-3A champs lost 27-13 in the first round of the GHSA state football playoffs.
The defeat ends the Yellow Jackets’ season and their nine-game win streak having not lost a game since a season-opening loss to Class 6A Rome.
“Obviously this is not what we wanted to end our season on, but the better team won tonight,” Rockmart head coach Biff Parson said. “This loss does not define the standard we have set for this program the last six years, and it does not define the future of this program either. We have to hold our heads up and move forward.”
The Jackets won their fifth region championship in a row and went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed from 6-3A. They drew the No. 4 seed from Region 8-3A, Stephens County, who came in with a 7-3 record. Its the earliest Rockmart has been eliminated from the playoffs since 2014 when it fell to Calhoun in the opening round.
The visiting Indians used a balanced offense that finished with 154 yards passing and 195 yards rushing to help buoy a defense that held Rockmart to 99 yards on the ground and had three interceptions.
Rockmart (9-2) played without starting quarterback JD Davis, who injured his knee in the first quarter of the regular-season finale against Ringgold the week before. With senior Mason Phillips called upon to stand behind center, his presence was missed in the secondary.
Phillips finished 14-of-23 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown, while senior receiver Jakari Clark had seven catches for 161 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown catch in the last minute of the game.
The Jackets took a 6-3 lead with 3:13 left in the first quarter when Dennis Sims switched from receiver to running back to score on a 1-yard run that capped off a six-play, 80-yard drive. The extra point was blocked.
Stephens quarterback Ben Stowe captain an effective offense that used speedy running back Tyson Everett to its full advantage on the ensuing drive that went 57 yards and ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Everett less than a minute into the second quarter.
The junior would finish with 34 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
After regaining the lead following the extra point, the Indians took full control before the half.
Bryson Trimier intercepted a pass by Phillips on Rockmart’s 20-yard line and ran it back for a score, and kicker Colton Bartmas hit a 33-yard field goal — his second of the game — with 33 seconds left in the quarter. Rockmart converted just one first down in the second quarter.
Stephens County appeared to be heading to score on the opening drive of the second half, but Rockmart’s defense bowed up and, led by Terrion Webb, held the Indians out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 2, with Everett able to gain just a yard.
Down 27-6 late in the third quarter, the Jackets would find moderate success on a drive that took them down to Stephens County’s 22, but a sack and a short pass on fourth-and-14 would end the possession.
Rockmart would get another shot after a shanked Stephens punt in the fourth quarter started a Jackets drive at the Indians’ 36. Phillips would hit Clark for two quick passes and run for a 9-yard gain as Rockmart got to the 7 before a pass to the end zone by Phillips was batted in the air and intercepted by Stephens’ Kelton Cade.
Phillips would find Clark on a 61-yard pass on the Jackets’ next drive to get down to the 15-yard line. But a fumble and a personal foul penalty put Rockmart back on the 29 before the Indians got their third interception of the night.
Rockmart got the ball back with 38 seconds left to play and was able to take advantage of a short field to score on a 24-yard pass from Phillips to Clark with 10 seconds to spare. Jose Alegria made the extra point to set the final score.
Stephens County will travel to Burke County for the second round of the playoffs after Burke defeated Mary Persons 48-21 on Friday.