In the first game of the 2017 Georgia Elite Classic at Cantrell Stadium at McEachern, the National freshman team defeated the American freshman team 31-21.
Aalah Brown, a wide receiver from Valdosta, was the star for the Nationals with two touchdowns. The first came on a 42-yard strike from quarterback Brock Vandagriff (Prince Avenue) with 5:09 left in the first quarter. Brown’s second touchdown, which came at the 13:52 mark of the third quarter, was a result of an observation from the coaching staff.
“The coaches saw them fighting on the bubble (screen),” said Brown. “So they told me to fake like I was going to block and then go on a deep route.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Quarterback Trevor Lovett (North Cobb) released a perfect pass that found Brown wide open at the 20-yard line, and he trotted in. Crucial adjustments led to a defensive touchdown as well for the Nationals. This time, however, it wasn’t a coach who noticed something but a defensive back who saw a receiver line up his feet in a particular way.
“They were doing a hitch [route] the whole time so I was used to him being in a certain stance,” said Lowndes DB Jaheim James. “But I noticed that (the receiver’s) foot was turned a little bit differently than it would be.”
That little bit of information was all James needed, and as soon as the pass was released, he broke on the ball, intercepted it and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
“So I read it really quick and broke on the ball and I caught it,” James said. “When he was getting the ball on the play, he would turn his foot really quick. But when he wasn’t, he wouldn’t and [the route] would be really straight. He had it really turned and I was really prepared for it.”
The American team was led by Carlos Del Rio (McEachern) who scored on a 1-yard run which was confirmed by the first-ever replay conducted in a high school football game. Del Rio lunged to the left side of the line and looked like he might have crossed the goal line. After replay on the video board, the play stood to pull the game to 7-7 with 8:28 left in the first quarter. Del Rio also completed a pass to Devin Smith (Metter) for a 70-yard touchdown. Caden Long (Roswell) found Julian Nixon (Centennial) with less than two minutes left in the game to pull the Americans to the final tally, 31-21.
For the Nationals, Vandagriff finished the game 6-for-11 passing for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Lovett was 6-for-8 passing for 163 yards and one touchdown. Jamal Haynes (Grayson) caught five passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. Brown finished with two receptions for 81 yards and two scores.
Some of the players in the Georgia Elite Classic are used to this atmosphere, but for the freshmen, this is a new experience which will stay with them for a lifetime.
“This was my first Classic like this, and it is a good experience,” Brown said. “I got to meet people from all over the state. I am used to schools and kids from South Georgia but to meet these kids from North Georgia schools and other teams, I made a lot of friends, especially from my team. Over the last two days we came together like a real team.”