EHRHARDT -- Another year and another Andrew Jackson Academy football appearance in the state championship game.
The Confederates (10-0 record) held off the Saints of Clarendon Hall (7-5 final record) on Friday for a 30-24 win in a SCISA 8-man Division II state semifinal game.
The AJA offense totaled 422 rushing yards on a chilly night at Hallman Sease Field, helping the two-time defending state champion Confederates advance to face backyard rival Jefferson Davis Academy for the state title. AJA and JDA will face off on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Calhoun Academy in St. Matthews to decide the championship.
"These past two games, we've come out and only scored one second-half touchdown each time, but our guys came through and got it done again," said AJA first-year head coach Willie Craven. "Everybody we are playing in playoffs, we've already beaten.
"So, they've got nothing to gain but to try and beat us. They are going to come at us, tooth and nail. Everyone is motivated to beat us. Penalties killed us tonight. Our offense isn't designed to overcome that. I believe we can get 10 yards on anybody through 4 plays; but it's those 5 or 10-yard penalties added on that hurt us."
AJA senior fullback Bailey Ackerman led the way for his team, carrying the ball 29 times for 190 yards rushing and a touchdown, while also catching a touchdown reception, running in a 2-point conversion and collecting 8 tackles on defense. His two touchdowns came in the first half, as the home team built a 22-8 lead by the break.
Pushing the state's longest active win streak to 36 games was important, but only served as an added bonus to advancing to another title game.
"We've just got to move forward, play hard as we can," Ackerman said. "Everybody we play knows what to expect from us; they know we're going to run the ball a lot.
"Before the game, we talked about how much we'd practiced all through the summer, how much we had on the line with this, and how much we needed this win."
With an 8th-grader starting on both sides of the ball and two freshmen starting on defense, the youth movement hasn't let the winning tradition at AJA pass away.
The game opened with the Saints' Zyan Gilmore recovering a botched kick return by AJA. But, the first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble that Jonathan Schaffer (7 tackles in the game) recovered for the home team.
Just 10 plays and 51 yards later, sophomore quarterback Colyn Peek carried in a 4-yard run for the first score of the game. Peek added the conversion run for an 8-0 score with 7:26 left in the opening quarter.
Peek carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards on the night.
On their first possession of the second quarter, AJA mounted a 60-yard drive that lasted 14 plays and endured a fumble and two costly penalties. But Peek found Ackerman on a 4th-and-goal play for a 6-yard scoring pass. Trey Pulaski carried in the conversion run for a 16-0 lead with 3:12 left in the first half.
Two plays from scrimmage later, Clarendon Hall senior quarterback Dylan Way connected over the middle with Kade Elliott for a 47-yard scoring strike. Bobby Ashba ran in the conversion for a 16-8 score with 2:18 left in the half.
Senior Jordan Lee then returned the ensuing kickoff 10 yards to set up a drive for AJA at the Saints' 47-yard line. Pulaski ran for a 31-yard gain on first down and, three plays later, Ackerman walked into the end zone on a 6-yard scoring carry. After another AJA penalty, Pulaski was stopped short on the conversion run, leaving the score 22-8 with 1:20 left before the break.
Ashba had an interception for the visitors a possession later, and Connor Gleaton returned the favor for the home team on the final play of the half.
Clarendon Hall opened the third quarter with a 51-yard drive that lasted 5 plays and ended with Ashba carrying in a 4-yard touchdown run. Ashba added the conversion for a 22-16 score with 10:39 left in the quarter.
AJA answered right back with a 54-yard scoring drive that lasted 6 plays and weathered two penalties. Pulaski carried the ball in from 8 yards out with 6:12 left in the third. Ackerman added the conversion run for a 30-16 score.
Pulaski had 26 carries for 184 yards and the score on the night.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Clarendon Hall failed to capitalize on a rare AJA punt that put the Saints 38 yards from paydirt, reaching the 8-yard line but having three straight passes fall incomplete in the red zone.
On the following AJA drive, the Saints forced a punt and then prevented it from getting airborn. Getting the ball on the 7-yard line, the visitors handed off to Tyrese Mitchum who ran in for a score with 4:07 left to play. Way found Elliott for the conversion pass, making it 30-24.
Ackerman converted a 21-yard run late, adding a first down and keeping the ball away for the visitors as the Confederates held on to advance.