A stout defensive performance by the Page Patriots at Green Hill on Friday night put them just one win away from a birth in the TSSAA Class 5A state championship game.
The Patriots (12-1) defeated the Hawks (11-2) in 31-14 and notched their first trip to the state semifinals since 1998, when Page was a 3A school.
“I was telling my principal and my cheer coach… With about three minutes left to go, the first thing that popped into my head were all the kids, all the young men that play for me in the past nine years and how they laid that foundation and built the program from the ground up," Page coach Charles Rathbone said.
"Everything they did went through my mind, and obviously, this group, it’s obviously special for them to be able to put a run like this together, and I’m just extremely proud of them.”
Rathbone raved about his defense, which held the Hawks scoreless in the first half after taking a 9-0 lead and forcing Green Hill into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone resulting in safety with just over five minutes left to play in the second quarter.
The Hawks got another chance in the final minute of the half but were stopped by an interception by defensive back Noah Kefuaver.
The second half did not start off well for the Patriots. A fumble on the opening kickoff led to a quick two-play touchdown drive by the Hawks, to make the score 9-7 early in the third quarter.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Cason Walker took the ball 75 yards for a touchdown to stretch the lead back to out to 16-7. Rathbone really thought that play changed the momentum of the whole game for his team.
“Literally one play later, somebody gets out of their lane, and he takes it to the house,” he said. “It just kind of flipped the whole momentum. It got it back in our favor, and it was a backbreaker for those guys I feel like. It put them in a tough situation. We were able to go on a bit of a run and put up a few more after that.”
Green Hill responded on the next drive to make it 16-14 with 7:35 left to play in the third quarter, but the Patriots responded right back.
Patriots quarterback Jake McNamara connected with his senior wide receiver Michael Mayer for a long pass inside the 15-yard line. It eventually set up Ethan Cunningham from 13 yards out for his second touchdown of the game and gave the Patriots a 23-14 lead with 6:49 left to play in the third quarter.
McNamara, a Colorado State commit, finished 15-for-26 for 242 yards and one touchdown. Mayer led all receivers with five catches for 152 yards in the contest. Cunningham finished with 18 carries for 92 yards and the two touchdowns, however, he also fumbled twice.
Just over three and a half minutes into the fourth quarter, the Patriots got some separation from the Hawks thanks to a 43-yard catch and run by Boyce Smith to make the score 31-14 Patriots after a two-point reception by Mayer. Smith snagged four catches for 66 yards and the touchdown in the game.
The Hawks would make a late drive, but an interception by Colin Hurd, who helped keep Page afloat early in the season as quarterback when McNamara went down with injury, would sew things up for the Patriots.
The Patriots will host 5A powerhouse Henry County on Friday. Henry County, now 9-5, defeated Springfield 23-0 in its quarterfinal game on Friday.