Trying to continue their undefeated season toward a second state football championship in the program’s 13-year history, the Marion County Eagles fell short Friday night in the semifinals.
The Eagles, ranked No. 2 in the Georgia High School Association Class A public-school power ratings, lost 31-23 at home to the No. 3 Clinch County Panthers.
Clinch advanced to the championship game against No. 1 Irwin County, which beat No. 5 Pelham 23-6 in the other semifinal.
Marion finished the season 12-1; Clinch improved to 12-1.
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Junior quarterback Trice McCannon led Marion’s offense on the ground and in the air. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries and passed for 251 yards and one touchdown while completing 12 of 30 attempts. His most productive target was senior wide receiver Josh Rodgers, who had eight catches for 176 yards and one touchdown.
Junior linebacker Kendrick Hawkins led Marion’s defense with 15 total tackles. Senior safety/linebacker Phillip Dixon had 12 total tackles, and junior defensive end Tyleak Broadaway added seven total tackles and one sack.
The Eagles led 7-0 on McCannon’s 4-yard touchdown run, followed by senior kicker Wilfred Vail-Mendez’s extra point, in the first quarter. They didn’t lead again.
Mendez’s 29-yard field and McCannon’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Rodgers in the second quarter cut the deficit to 24-17 at halftime, but Clinch’s 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was too much to overcome.
McCannon finished the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:02 left in the game.
The Eagles won the 2013 state title with head coach Mike Swaney, who built Marion into a Class A power. They went 65-10 in his six seasons (2010-15), collecting five region championships, reaching the second round of the state playoffs twice (2010-11), the quarterfinals twice (2012 and 2015) and the semifinals once (2014) in addition to that state title.
After the retirement of Swaney, defensive coordinator Chris Kirksey was promoted to head coach and continued the Eagles’ winning tradition, although they had to rebuild a bit. They went 7-4 with a first-round state playoff loss in 2016, then went 9-3 and reached the second round last year.
This year, the Eagles were dominant. All but two of their 12 wins were by more than 14 points. But the streak stopped against Clinch.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.