It has been 44 years since the city of Fort Valley, Ga., could call one of its high school teams a state champion, but Saturday night the drought ended as Chris Slaughter and his Trojans took home the class AAA crown with a 35-14 win over Dougherty High.
The talented wide receiver, who has been a big playmaker for the Trojans all season on offense, defense and special teams, again came up big in the win. Slaughter caught six passes for 103 yards including a 55-yard touchdown pass with 11:17 left in the third quarter to give the Trojans a two touchdown advantage at 28-14. That TD catch was also Slaughter's 23 TD reception of the season, which is a Peach County single season record.
This weekend two more Tiger commits will look to follow in Slaughter's footsteps as both Benjamin Tate and his Snow Hill team and Steven Ensminger and his West Monroe team will battle for state championships in Maryland and Louisiana.
In Louisiana, Steven Ensminger and the West Monroe Rebels relied on the ground game to upend Catholic High (Baton Rouge) 27-8. The talented quarterback only threw seven passes and completed only three of them for 26 yards, but the passing game was only an afterthought with the Rebels' dominating ground game in full effect.
Tailback Frank Goodin, a Louisiana-Monroe commitment, racked up 231 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 22 carries and Ensminger added the other two scores on the ground and finished the game with 13 carries for 65 yards on the way to the victory.
The Rebels' defense was also very impressive in the win holding Catholic to only 14 yards and no first downs in the first half and only allowing 11 rushing yards in the game.
Next up for West Monroe is a date with 12-1 Acadiana at Independence Stadium in Shreveport for the state championship in Louisiana's AAAAA classification. The Rebels have a very successful program that has won five previous state titles with the last one coming five years ago in 2000.
"It would mean a lot to win a state championship," Ensminger says. "It is every kids' dream to play in the state championship game and I couldn't be happier about it. It would also be great to win it with this team. I couldn't ask for a better group of teammates. They are great guys."
West Monroe is favored to win the title, but Ensminger says his team is taking their opponent very seriously. "They are a really good team and they have a great linebacker (Jacob Cutrera) who is committed to LSU."
After losing the opening game, it has been a "great feeling" to win every week since then, says Ensminger, who hopes to enjoy that feeling for his final high school football game on Saturday night at Independence Stadium.
"We are expecting a really big crowd for the game," he says.
Unfortunately for Hendrick Leverette, his Oak Grove team could not make it four wins for the remaining Auburn commitments as The Warriors dropped a 46-40 shootout to Meridian, a team the Warriors has defeated earlier in the season.
Hendrick Leverette and Oak Grove finished the season 12-1, but the one loss was a costly one.
However, on this night, talented running back prospect Cordera Eason took the Wildcats on his back and led them to victory behind a career high 258-yard rushing performance on 25 carries.
Turnovers were also a big key for Meridian as it finished the game with five takeaways and took two of those turnovers in for defensive scores. Leverette, who has been very effective on offense this season for Oak Grove, added another touchdown in the game, a two-yard burst, which was the first score of the second half.
In Maryland, Tate and Snow Hill will look to cap off a memorable season by taking home the state title. They have faced a number of hurdles to get to this point including beating their archrival and Tate's former team, Stephen Decatur High, for the first time in eight years and defeating defending 1A state champion Dunbar 20-18 in the semi-finals to reach the title game.
Against Dunbar, The Eagles came up with big plays when they needed them on offense and defense and Tate, as usual, was in on a number of them. Along with rushing for 118 yards in the contest, Tate also caught two passes on offense and came up with two big pass deflections and two big sacks on the defensive side of the ball.
Snow Hill, which moved to 12-1 with the victory, will now move on to face 13-0 Allegany at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, on Saturday for the Maryland 1A state championship.
Benjamin Tate and Snow Hill are now only one game away from their goal of a state championship.