By Devin Golden
ROME — In two recent losses to Darlington School’s football team, Christian Heritage felt it was close to winning.
There was nothing close about the Lions’ loss Friday.
Christian Heritage turned the ball over four times, fell behind 28-7 in the first half and saw its season and revenge bid vanish at Jerry Sharp Field as Darlington won 41-17 in the first round of the Class A private school state playoffs.
Darlington (9-2) entered as the eighth seed and advances to play top-seeded Eagles Landing Christian — a 41-3 winner over Athens Christian in the first round — next Friday.
Ninth-seeded Christian Heritage (8-3) finished the season with its first playoff appearance in the Georgia High School Association in just its second year of play since moving to the GHSA from the Glory for Christ Football League.
“We’re hurt right now,” Lions coach Preston Poag said, “but when we look back on it and the hurt wears off a little bit, it was a special season.”
The Sub-region 6A-A rivals played each of the past two regular seasons. Darlington won the 2012 matchup 21-10 and this year’s edition 18-14. In both games, Christian Heritage led at halftime.
The third game was all Tigers from the start.
Darlington rushed for 357 yards. The first 55 came on the game’s first play from scrimmage as running back Trey Edge scored. Edge gave Darlington the lead as soon as he could and finished with 176 yards on 18 carries. Quarterback Logan Rice scored on Darlington’s next possession on a 5-yard run, and the extra point put the Tigers ahead 14-0 with 4:41 left in the opening quarter.
“Before the game started, we knew we had to get something positive early,” Poag said. “They score on the first play and it’s kind of the opposite.”
Christian Heritage’s first score was a 19-yard pass from quarterback Trevor Brown to wide receiver Nich Bartley with 5:30 left in the opening quarter. The ensuing extra point cut the lead in half. After a stop by the defense, the Lions were driving for the potential game-tying score when Brown was intercepted in the end zone. That was as close as Christian Heritage got, as Darlington drove 80 yards in 13 plays on the following possession. Rice’s 18-yard scoring run and extra point made it 21-7 with 6:02 remaining before halftime. Brown was picked off on the next drive with Darlington capitalizing with another score, and the senior was intercepted once more in the second half.
Brown, who threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns, was sacked twice and pressured a lot by Darlington’s blitzing defense.
“We felt we had to get pressure,” Darlington coach Tommy Atha said. “The last time we played them, we let (Brown) get too comfortable in the pocket. He throws the ball well and they have some of the best receivers we’ve seen all year. We wanted to make him make some bad decisions.”
Hunter Dixon’s 20-yard field goal just before halftime cut Darlington’s lead to 28-10, but Christian Heritage’s defense continued having trouble stopping the run in the second half.
Rice put the Tigers ahead 34-10 with a 33-yard run with 9:17 left in the third quarter. Chas Williams and the extra point made it 41-10 on a 4-yard score at 2:17 in the same quarter.
Brown and Bartley connected again on a 22-yard score with 3:57 in the fourth, which was played with a running clock because of the GHSA’s mercy rule.
Christian Heritage rushed for 80 yards, with 51 on a Matt Cook run near the end of the third quarter. The Lions’ main two running backs — Austin Lowe and Jake Stokes — combined for 19 yards on 10 carries. Brown completed 20 of 39 pass attempts.
“I let the defense’s pressure get to me and I had happy feet,” Brown said. “We had guys open all night. It was just a tough night.”