Sad Ending: Fellowship Falls at Pierce County in Elite 8 Game
It was an extremely tough way for the season to end. Especially hard for the group of nine seniors from the Fellowship Christian School varsity football team who suited up for the last time as Paladins.
The Paladins (10-3 overall) traveled to Blackshear to face Pierce County High School and fought hard in a 49-17 loss to the Bears in a GHSA Class AA Football Championships Elite 8 contest on Nov. 24.
Fellowship’s seniors include James Burrell, Nathan Chapman, Caden Coffin, Christian Easterly, Noah Falcon, Evan Hildebrandt, Tyler Laskaris, Josh Milhollin, and Caleb Silvers.
The Bears’ seventh consecutive win ended the Paladins’ seven-game win streak. Pierce County improved to 12-1 overall with the victory.
“We got whipped in all phases of the game,” head coach John Thompson said. “Offense, defense and kicking. We struggled on both sides of the line of scrimmage and never gained any momentum. The TD to Evan [Haynes] that was called back by penalty was really critical. That would have made the score 22-17 and we would have had a spark – but it took the score away and put us in terrible field position. A 14-point swing right before half really hurt us. We just couldn’t get anything going after that. Give them credit though. It was a great atmosphere there and they took advantage of every mistake we made. Pierce was definitely the better team last night.”
FCS finished the game with two touchdowns and a field goal, but it wasn’t enough as Pierce County opened up leads of 21-3 after the first quarter, 35-10 at halftime and 49-10 early in the fourth quarter.
With the Bears leading 21-10, junior Evan Haynes appeared to have scored on a long throw from sophomore Jonathan Granby – a spectacular 73-yard play with 4:23 left in the first half – but the score was called back due to offensive pass interference. Unfortunately for the Paladins, that drive ended with a punt and Pierce County scored again before halftime on a 7-yard pass play.
The Bears scored on the opening drive of the game, the team’s traded punts and then Pierce County scored on an interception return from 18 yards with 5:05 left in the opening quarter to take a 14-0 lead.
Fellowship answered with senior Nathan Chapman’s 44-yard line drive field goal with 3:05 to go in the quarter. Chapman finished the season perfect 10-for-10 in field-goal attempts. He’s also connected on both of his extra-point kicks in Blackshear to help him finish the year 71-for-71 in extra-point kick attempts.
With 1:42 to go in the first, Pierce County scored its third TD of the game.
FCS capped an 85-yard TD drive on the fifth play of the second quarter as sophomore CJ Givers zig zagged his way into the end zone from 12 yards out. That made it 21-10 with 9:15 to go in the half.
The lead was extended to 28-10 as the Bears scored on their next possession.
Pierce County added touchdowns late in the third quarter – a 13-yard TD run – and added another TD on the first play of the fourth quarter to lead 49-10.
A 42-yard TD pass from Granby to Haynes got FCS in the end zone again with 1:08 to play.
Granby completed 7-of-16 pass attempts for 152 yards. Haynes led FCS with four receptions and 86 receiving yards. Milhollin grabbed two passes for 49 yards. Givers ran 11 times for 35 yards.
Three Paladins finished with six tackles: junior Al Thomson (six solo), junior Josh Petty (four solo, two assists) and junior Charles Sharp (three solo, three assists). Petty recovered one fumble and Coffin recorded one tackle for a loss.
- The Paladins are now 1-1 all-time against the Bears in varsity football. On Nov. 25, 2022, the Paladins posted a 40-22 win over the Bears at Bob Lord Field to advance to the Final 4.
- Fellowship owns an all-time playoff record of 19-9, including a 5-2 mark in seven Class AA playoff contest.
- The most points allowed in a playoff game by Fellowship came in a 56-20 loss at Wesleyan School in the state semifinals of 2019 GHSA Class A Private School Football Championships on Dec. 6, 2019. The 49 points allowed in Blackshear was the second highest.
- Fellowship is the top seed from Region 8, while Pierce County is the No. 1 seed from Region 3.
- FCS finished the season with scored 532 points – including a 63-14 Sweet 16 win over North Murray High School on Nov. 17 – and allowed 303 points this season.
- Entering the playoffs, Fellowship shared seventh among Class AA schools in the GHSFD rankings.
(Photos by Milo Falcon)
Week 13 Preview: Fellowship Travels to South Georgia for Next Playoff Contest
For the second consecutive season, the Fellowship Christian School varsity football team’s playoff journey includes an Elite 8 matchup with Pierce County High School.
The Paladins travel to Blackshear for a matchup with the Bears in the Elite 8 of the GHSA Class AA Football Championships on Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
“As the season has gone on and we head deeper in the playoffs, the guys are realizing that it’s more about us than who we play,” head coach John Thompson said. “All that being said, we are very excited to travel to South Georgia to play a talented and very well-coached team. Obviously, it will be a challenge to face them, but getting this deep has been fun. We have had three really good practices this week, and we will be ready.”
On Nov. 25, 2022, the Paladins posted a 40-22 win over the Bears at Bob Lord Field to advance to the Final 4.
“Their QB is different from last year, but they are pretty much the same team,” Thompson said. “They have a lot of seniors on the offensive and defensive lines. Like us, they have a lot of kids who play both ways. They run a wildcat offense and have a lot of people at the point of attack. We expect a very physical football game.”
The keys for the Paladins at Pierce County?
“I compare them to Rabun,” Thompson said. “The line of scrimmage is the key. We have to take control of the line, execute and steal the ball a time or two. Winning the turnover ball in very important. On defense, we have to be ready at every snap. They are very good at the wildcat. But the coaches and I are very pleased with our guys and how they have handled these three days of preparation. It’s been a great teaching week with meetings, practice and lifting. The boys are enthusiastic and ready.”
Fellowship (10-2 overall) is the top seed from Region 8, while Pierce County (11-1 overall) is the No. 1 seed from Region 3. The Bears’ lone loss this season was to Appling County at home, 17-14, midway through the season. The team’s won six straight games, while the Paladins have notched seven victories in-a-row.
FCS has scored 508 points – including a 63-14 Sweet 16 win over North Murray High School on Nov. 17 – and have allowed 254 points this season. Pierce County has collected 460 points for and has given up just 87 points this season. The Bears advanced to the Elite 8 with a 35-14 home win over Laney County on Nov. 17.
Fellowship has gained 4,369 yards this season, including 2,631 yards on the ground and 1,738 through the air.
Sophomore CJ Givers is Fellowship’s leading rusher in 2023 with 194 carries, 1,435 yards and 23 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Granby has collected 429 yards and 11 TDs on 62 attempts. Junior Al Thompson has recorded 283 yards on 30 carries with four scores.
Granby has completed 96-of-162 attempts for 1,620 yards and 16 scores. He’s thrown just one interception and has been sacked just four times in 2023.
Senior Josh Milhollin leads FCS receivers with 48 receptions, 838 reception yards and 10 TD catches. Junior Evan Haynes has registered 29 catches, five scores and 585 yards. Givers has caught eight passes for 83 yards.
Junior Charles Sharp leads Fellowship with 81 tackles (34 solo, 47 assists). Senior James Burrell ranks second on the club with 65 tackles (32 solo, 33 assists), while Thompson is third with 63 tackles, including a team-best 37 solo stops. Junior Dontavious Carter ranks fifth on the Paladins with 62 total tackles and leads the way with 49 assisted stops.
Burrell and junior Josh Petty share first on the club with nine tackles for a loss. Petty and Burrell are 1-2 on the club with five and four sacks, respectively.
Milhollin is first on the Paladins with four interceptions, followed by Haynes with two.
In 2023, senior Nathan Chapman is perfect in nine field-goal attempts. He’s also connected on all 66 extra-point kick attempts this season.
Entering the playoffs, Fellowship shares seventh among Class AA schools in the GHSFD rankings.
(Photos by Leigh-Ann Thompson)