Blessed Trinity 33, Marist 30 (3OT)
Even though Blessed Trinity and Marist only started facing each other in 2016, the rivalry between the two metro Atlanta Catholic schools has become must-see TV. Friday was no exception.
Blessed Trinity senior kicker Aaron Werkheiser was a perfect four-for-four on field goals, the last one a clutch 43-yarder in the third overtime, and cornerback Quinton Reese picked off a pass from Marist quarterback Connor Cigelske in that third overtime to give the Titans a 33-30 win and their second consecutive Region 7-AAAA title.
The War Eagles (9-1, 5-1) came into the contest undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA. However, now they have dropped four of the five tussles with Blessed Trinity (8-1, 5-0), which came into the game ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA. All but one of the games has been decided by three points or less. The outlier was the 2017 state title game, which the Titans won 16-7.
Friday night’s game was another classic.
Marist started quickly as Cigelske kept a zone read and darted off tackle down the near sideline for a 77-yard run on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He was pushed out at the Blessed Trinity 3-yard line. Two plays later, junior fullback Lincoln Parker bowled in from 2 yards out to give the War Eagles a 7-0 lead after senior Richard Bowen’s successful point-after kick.
Blessed Trinity took a little more time to respond. The Titans used 10 plays to drive 81 yards and tie the game at 7-7 on an 8-yard run by senior running back Elijah Green. The march was assisted by two personal foul penalties by Marist on the same play – a face mask, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the War Eagle coaching staff.
Marist failed to score on its next possession, but the ensuing punt penned the Titans at their 6-yard line. The War Eagle defense was poised to get off the field on third-and-two from the 14-yard line, but freshman running back Justice Haynes took a toss sweep off tackle, veered back to the middle and outran the Marist secondary for an 86-yard touchdown to give Blessed Trinity the lead, 14-7, at the end of the first quarter.
The Titans took advantage of a Marist turnover to increase the advantage to 17-7 early in the second quarter, after an interception by junior Jackson Hamilton and a 27-yard field goal by Werkheiser.
Marist cut the lead to 17-10 just before the half when senior Richard Bowen kicked a 31-yard field goal with :04 seconds left. The War Eagles had the ball first-and-goal at the Titan 7-yard line, but Cigelske was sacked for a six-yard loss. With no timeouts left, Cigelske had to spike the ball on second down to stop the clock, so the field goal unit come get on the field.
Blessed Trinity increased its lead to 10 again, 20-10, when Werkheiser drilled a 40-yard field goal to cap the Titans’ first drive of the second half. But Marist tied the game with 10 unanswered points on the War Eagles’ next two possessions.
First, they used 11 running plays to drive 44 yards and eat up nearly seven minutes on the clock. Bowen’s 45-yard field goal with 1:44 left in the third quarter made the score 20-13. Then the War Eagle defense stepped up to give the ball right back to the offense when junior defensive back Joshua Moore jarred the ball loose from a Titan receiver, and junior linebacker Tyler Hare grabbed the ball out of the air and returned it 25 yards to the Blessed Trinity 13-yard line. Four plays later, Cigelske dove in from the 1-yard line to tie the game at 20-20, early in the fourth quarter.
Neither team would score again until overtime. The teams traded field goals on their first possessions – a 25-yarder by Werkheiser and a 26-yarder by Bowen. Cigelske scored on a 1-yard run to start the second overtime session, and give Marist a 30-23 lead. But the Titans answered with a 17-yard touchdown pass from junior Duncan Reavis to senior James Bryant, who skied over a Marist defender to come down with the catch.
Ironically, the third overtime possession was one of Blessed Trinity’s worst of the game, as they lost 11 yards on three plays. But Werkheiser drilled the 43-yard field goal that would prove to be the difference. Reese, one of the best corners in Georgia despite not being rated or ranked by any of popular recruiting sites, made the kick stand up when he read the out-route being run by Matthew Houghton and picked off Cigelske’s pass to seal the win.
Blessed Trinity 14 3 3 0 3 7 3 33 Marist 7 3 3 7 3 7 0 30
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