ATLANTA — Colquitt County’s Justin Rogers settled into his new post soundly on Saturday as the state runner-up Packers defeated North Gwinnett 17-6 in the Metro by T-Mobile Corky Kell Classic in what was a rematch of the 2017 AAAAAAA title game and last year’s quarterfinals. Colquitt’s defense was impeccable and kept North Gwinnett out of the end zone all evening.
“It feels great, it’s a big relief. We’ve been wide-open for three months,” Rogers said after the long offseason and the so-called “waiting game.” “You know, kind of getting this breath … this break right here. But I’m just so proud of these young men and all the poise they showed and love for each other because this game is a tough one and they got behind each other.”
Colquitt, which was coming off one of the most publicized coaching changes in recent GHSA history, scored both of its touchdowns within three minutes of each other in the second quarter on a 5-yard run from Daijun Edwards and a 52-yard pass from Jaycee Harden to Montavious Ponder. The Bulldogs cut into the lead on a 26-yard Andrew Lim field goal with 1:17 left in the second quarter, but Colquitt responded with a 36-yard field goal from Jason Gallardo to push the lead to 17-3. The Packers held North Gwinnett to just a field goal in the third and both teams went scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Harden was 10-of-17 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown. Edwards had 19 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.
“There’s something about that senior year and he’s a leader that’s coming back and returning for his senior year and it means a lot to him, obviously, and he showed that,” Rogers said of Harden.
The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and played stamina-draining football for the first part of the first quarter. They gained yards in 2- and 3-yard chunks, and of the first 10 plays, only two didn’t result in a gain.
That changed when junior Bobby Ezzard caught an 8-yard pass from senior JR Martin. Ezzard turned upfield after gaining enough for a first down, but was quickly met by Colquitt junior Omarian Daniels, who jarred the ball loose, allowing teammate Biron Silas to recover the ball on his own 38-yard line.
The Packers took this momentum and did not look back. On the ensuing drive Harden completed four passes, three of which went for more than 12 yards. He and Edwards helped move their team deep into North Gwinnett territory. The Packers were facing a first-and-goal on the 5 when the first-quarter buzzer sounded. Once they returned from the brief intermission, Edwards walked into the end zone for a touchdown. Following a Jason Gallardo PAT, Colquitt led 7-0.
“I’m proud of my O-line and the running back, so we relied on them,” Rogers said. “When we did a four-minute drive, we got a four-minute drive and that helps us win situational football.”
North Gwinnett gained just 9 net yards before punting away and allowing the Packers to strike again, which set up the 52-yard touchdown pass from Harden to Ponder.
The Bulldogs marched 71 yards down to the Colquitt County 9, but were unable to convert on three attempts and settled for a field goal.
After an eventful five straight drives across two halves without a score, Zy Brockington brought Mercedes-Benz Stadium back onto its feet with a jarring hit on Devin Crosby. Fellow Packer Nathan Bell picked up the fumble and ran it for 28 yards before being brought down. Now on the North Gwinnett 11, Colquitt County was ready to strike again. Instead of another seven points, however, the Packer offensive line allowed too much pressure into the backfield and Gallardo made his lone field-goal attempt of the day.
North Gwinnett’s J.R. Martin was 16-of-25 passing for 126 yards. Josh Downs caught nine passes for 76 yards. Devin Crosby had 21 carries for 57 yards. Barrett Carter led the Bulldogs with six tackles.