By Zach Shugan
ROSWELL, Ga. — It had been nearly two years since the rivals met on the gridiron, so the energy was through the non-existent roof Friday night as Blessed Trinity hosted Marist.
Now separated in different regions and classifications, some things have changed since that game in November of 2019, which the Titans won 33-30 in triple overtime to secure a region title. The feelings each team and their fans have for each other, however, have remained the same.
At the end of the night, Marist and its fans celebrated, as the War Eagles won 28-13 and prevented Blessed Trinity from taking a fourth straight game in the rivalry.
“For me, this is an ego game,” Blessed Trinity head coach Tom Hall said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to our season. However, they’re our rival. We want to put our best foot forward, and we certainly didn’t.”
Blessed Trinity (1-1) entered the contest ranked No. 1 in Class 5A by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Marist (1-0) carried a rank of No. 3 in Class 4A. This only added to the hype around the matchup, but injuries might have taken away from it.
The Titans played without All-American junior running back Justice Haynes, who got dinged up last week and was feeling “about 70%” of his normal self, according to Hall.
“I will not ever use excuses of players being hurt, but we were certainly missing some guys,” Hall said. “We were missing some key guys on both sides of the line, and then of course, Justice. But if we had Justice tonight, I’m not sure the outcome would have been much different than what it was.”
Marist led 14-7 at halftime after scoring a pair of unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter.
Blessed Trinity junior Evan Dickens, who started at running back in place of the injured Haynes, kicked off the second quarter with a bang following a scoreless first from both teams. Doing work on the both sides of the ball, Dickens intercepted a pass and returned it some 40 yards for a touchdown.
Marist responded with its first scoring drive after four unsuccessful attempts to start the game. The War Eagles capped off a 56-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run.
Later in the quarter, the War Eagles scored again and took the lead on a play — or rather a call — that had Titans faithful jeering. Lined up a few yards away from the goal line, Marist handed the ball off and tried to punch it in for a score. Instead, Blessed Trinity junior Kieran Davis punched it loose, resulting in a frenzy for the ball in the end zone. Although a Blessed Trinity player seemed to come out of the dog pile with the ball in his hands, the nearest official blew his whistle and awarded a touchdown to Marist. The official said he saw a Marist player with control of the ball at the bottom of the pile, so the War Eagles took the lead for the first time with 1:42 left in the half.
After punting on its first drive of the second half and forcing Blessed Trinity to do the same, Marist scored on a one-play drive. The War Eagles’ fullback took a handoff up the middle and ran 50 yards untouched for a touchdown. The War Eagles scored on a fullback dive again early in the fourth quarter, this time from five yards out.
Backed into a corner (aka a 21-point deficit with 8:35 remaining), Blessed Trinity landed one final punch. Dickens took a handoff, broke away from a few War Eagle defenders and ran 80 yards down the sideline for a score. The extra-point attempt hit off an upright, keeping the Titans’ score at 13.
The Titans’ defense forced a stop and gave the ball back to the offense with six minutes left on the clock, but they were unable to put any more points on the board.
“I thought our defense played reasonably well,” Hall said. “Offensively, we just couldn’t sustain anything meaningful. We’d have spurts here and there, and we turned it over a couple times on top of that. You’re just not going to beat a really good football team like Marist with that kind of effort on offense.”
Next for Blessed Trinity is a gauntlet of road games against tough competition.
The Titans have another rivalry game next week, as they’ll head to northeast Atlanta to take on St. Pius X. Then, they’ll go out of state to play Charlotte Catholic, a team that’s won four consecutive state titles in North Carolina. After that, they go to Eagle’s Landing Christian, which is currently ranked No. 2 in Class A Private.
“We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Hall said. “We’ll get better. We’re certainly not going to let this define our season.”