MACON — The dream season for the Trinity Christian School Lions football team turned into a nightmare Friday night.
The Valwood School Valiants (10-3) scored two touchdowns in the second quarter to take the lead and held on for a 14-9 victory over the Lions in the GISA State Championship football game at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium.
“I didn’t have a speech for losing this game,” Lions first-year head coach Kenny Dallas told his team after the game. “But I tell you what: we have preached brotherhood and preparation, and you guys have earned this trip to Macon. I love you all.”
The game started well for Trinity (11-3). The Lions forced a three-and-out on the Valiants’ second possession of the first quarter, forcing them to punt deep in their own territory. The snap sailed over the head of Valwood punter John Miller, who smartly kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Trinity lead.
The first quarter ended with an interception by Trinity’s Zach Jones and on the fourth play of the Lions’ ensuing drive, Shep Hancock threw a nice 32-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Mitchell to increase their lead. Ethan Aldridge’s extra point was good, and Trinity led 9-0 at the 10:49 mark of the second quarter.
The Valiants didn’t hang their heads. Burns engineered a nine-play drive capped by a 6-yard TD run by Cam Walker. Miller connected on the extra point and Valwood cut the Trinity lead to 9-7 with 7:06 left before halftime.
The Lions fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff return, and Valwood recovered. Three plays later, Burns threw a 14-yard TD pass to Walker and Valwood took a 14-9 lead into halftime.
There were many twists and turns in the second half, but neither team scored in the third or fourth quarters. The Lions got several big defensive plays from Alex Seymour, Caleb Dallas, Sam Cotton and Cameron Hellgeth to keep the Valiants off the board, but Valwood’s defense was stingy as well. The Valiants were on the verge of scoring late in the third quarter, but Burns’ tipped pass was intercepted by Trinity’s Jalen Neal at the 1-yard line.
Trinity didn’t score on that last possession of the third quarter, and the score remained 14-9 heading into the fourth.
The final period was a wild one, indeed. With 7:00 left in the game, Burns threw a pass to Walker that was tipped by Lions’ defensive back Brennan Burks. But the ball fell right into Walker’s hands and he scooted untouched into the end zone for what looked like the back-breaking TD against Trinity. The Valiants were penalized for an illegal man downfield, however, so the TD was taken away. Dallas sacked Burns on the next play and the Valiants had to punt the ball back to Trinity with 4:17 left.
The Lions drove down field, but they used their remaining timeouts in the process. The Lions soon had a first-and-goal opportunity — they were nine yards away from winning the GISA state title.
Trinity quarterback Zach Seymour nearly scored on second-and-goal from the Valwood 7-yard line, but he was tripped after a 2-yard gain. Seymour lost yardage on third down, and on fourth and goal, Seymour threw a pass that fell incomplete. There was a penalty on the play, but it was against Trinity and Valwood declined it, giving the Valiants the ball with 50 seconds left in the game. Valwood ran out the clock, winning the game and the GISA state title.
Trinity senior running back Luke Vermilya was heartbroken, but he praised his team for their effort on Friday.
“I’m proud of all the guys. We fought extremely hard,” said Vermilya. “Coach Dallas has really turned this team around and I’m proud to have played for him.”