The sea of red suddenly grew calm at midfield as Carroll Academy head coach Bo Milton began his postgame speech. But one sentence was enough to set off another tsunami of screams.
“We’re going to Jackson!”
The top-ranked Rebels avenged a loss to St. Joseph in last year’s semifinal, grinding out a 15-6 victory over the Irish on Friday night to send Carroll to its first Class 3A championship game since 1998.
“That’s before I was born,” said senior lineman Cooper Beck, who totaled seven tackles and brought constant pressure to slow down star St. Joe quarterback Mekhi Norris. “I’ve always known this group was special growing up and I’m just so glad we have a coach like Bo to lead us.”
Rebels quarterback Brennan Blaylock tossed an interception on his first throw of the night, a would-be pick six that was negated by a flag. It was the first of three Irish touchdowns called back due to penalties.
Hunter “Hollywood” Brackin helped turn the tide toward the Rebels (12-0) in the first quarter. After coughing up the ball near the goal line, the senior running back/linebacker returned the favor by forcing a fumble that sophomore corner Noah Beck took back for a scoop-and-score. Maddox Carpenter added a 2-point conversion on the ground to give Carroll an 8-0 lead.
With C.J. Moore filling in for Norris under center, St. Joe responded with a touchdown pass to Tyler Beckworth to trim the deficit to 8-6 at halftime.
The Irish recovered a fumble on the first play of the second half, but they couldn’t capitalize after a flag wiped away a potentially go-ahead touchdown catch by Kaleb Lockett.
A pair of long runs by Brackin and Blaylock put the Rebels in the red zone late in the third quarter, and Blaylock extended their lead to 15-6 thanks to a powerful push by his offensive line.
Norris finally connected on a deep ball in the fourth quarter, finding Jerrian King for a 45-yard touchdown. But another penalty brought the Irish back and invited a wave of outrage from the St. Joe sideline. Any hope of an Irish comeback was eliminated when Carpenter picked off Norris with five minutes remaining.
Brackin finished with 15 carries for 92 yards while adding six tackles for Carroll on defense. Blaylock racked up 56 yards and a touchdown on 11 totes. Carpenter finished with eight tackles and Hunter Brower tallied seven stops.
The Rebels take on Greenwood High transfer DeAndre Smith and No. 2 Greenville Christian in the finals next Friday night (7 p.m.) at Jackson Academy.
“It means a lot to our community, a lot to our kids,” Milton said. “Everybody who’s been involved the last six years has laid the foundation for today.”
• Contact Riley Overend at 581-7237 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @OverendOut on Twitter.