Ever since losing to Greenville St. Joseph last year in the Class 3A semifinals, the Irish have been on the mind of the Carroll Academy Rebels.
The Rebels vanquished those thoughts with a suffocating defense as Carroll beat the three-time defending state champions 15-6 on Friday night to advance to the Class 3A state championship game.
The Rebels improve to 11-0 on the season and will get another Greenville team this week as they take on Greenville Christian on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Jackson Academy.
Veteran coach Bo Milton had nothing but praise for everyone surrounding the Carroll Academy programs.
“I’m super excited for our kids, our town, our school and our community,” Milton said. “I’m still on cloud nine and excited about the win. It was a big win for our program. Now we just have to go finish it.”
After losing three games by six total points last year, the Rebels have run roughshod over the competition this season but had their hands full on Friday night with a lightning fast Irish team.
The Irish got the ball to open the game and drove down the field with a nine-play drive, getting as deep as the Carroll 20 before being forced to punt.
But the Rebels had difficulties of their own as they threw an interception on their opening possession and fumbled on their second drive.
“We made some mistakes early with the interception and the fumble on the second drive,” Milton said. “But our defense did a great job getting stops as they have done all year long. I thought we got after them and created some turnovers and did a good job of tackling in space.”
The Rebels got the first big break of the game. After Hunter Bracken fumbled at the St. Joseph 6, the Irish gave it right back as Maddox Carpenter picked up a Greenville fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Carpenter converted the two-point conversion, and Carroll led 8-0.
“I think the ball bounced our way this time versus the last time we played them,” Milton said. “We got some breaks and made some big plays. We were able to get them off the field and limit their big plays. I thought we were able to grind away at them when we had to. And I thought we did a great job in special teams as well. I thought we played well in all phases of the game. It was just two really good football teams going at each other.”
Carroll got pinned at their own three to open the second quarter and put together a 12-play drive but eventually turned the ball over on downs at midfield. St. Joseph then went 50 yards in four plays, scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass right before the half. The try for two failed and Carroll led 8-6 at the half.
The second half looked a lot like the first half. The Rebels got the ball to open the half but fumbled on the first play of the half. It appeared as if Greenville was going to take the lead but had a long touchdown pass called back and eventually punted.
The Rebels then put together a scoring drive. After a big 35-yard run by Brennan Blaylock, the quarterback finished off the seven-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak. Hunter Grantham hit the PAT, and Carroll led 15-6.
“I thought our guys handled the pressure of the game,” Milton said. “I thought we never got down and just and made the next play. Bad things are going to happen, and we talked about it on Thursday. Who is going to be the guy who is going to pick up the team? I thought the whole team never got down and just kept fighting on every play.”
The game turned defensive for the rest of the third and got interesting again midway through the fourth. St. Joe had another score called back with 6:39 left in the game and eventually threw an interception to Carpenter to end the threat.
The Rebels then ran out the clock, taking a knee at the St. Joe 25 to end the game.
The Rebels had 248 yards rushing on 46 carries. Bracken had 92 yards on 15 carries while Blaylock had 56 yards on 11 carries. Carpenter had 42 yards on seven carries while Mathis Beck had 39 yards on six carries. Braxton York had 22 yards on four carries.