By Seth Ellerbee
An interception by senior defensive back Stefan Green with nine seconds left prevented an East Coweta comeback and handed Kell a 36-34 victory in the first game Saturday of the MetroPCS Corky Kell Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It was the first-ever Corky Kell victory for Longhorns coach Brett Sloan.
“Our motto is start fast and finish strong,” said Sloan, who is in his second year at Kell. “I think they still carry it with them from last year that we lost three games by a total of seven points.”
Kell might not have started fast — East Coweta led 14-10 with 10:38 left in the first half — but with eight minutes left in the game, Kell led 36-21. Then East Coweta mounted a comeback effort, and it appeared for the second year in a row that Kell would be overtaken in the final minutes of Corky Kell game. The Longhorns lost to Tucker on a missed field goal in overtime at Georgia State Stadium last year.
East Coweta’s offense, which struggled to find rhythm in the second half, countered the Longhorns’ lead with touchdowns by Gerald Green, his third, and Jonathan Hood on a 19-yard pass from quarterback Nate Cronic, to cut the lead to 36-34 with 21 seconds remaining.
The Indians, in a last-gasp effort, regained possession on the ensuing onside kick, which forced the Kell defense to make a stand. The last-second Kell interception closed the deal.
“Every single loss we had last year was a motivation for us this year,” said quarterback Evan Conley. “So getting in that moment, you kind of feel that you are getting down to the wire again, and you definitely want to reverse how things were.”
“Several times, we came up just short last year,” said coach Sloan. “They seemed determined to not let that happen this time. A lot of (last year’s close losses) were self-inflicted, and you are only going to win so many of those. They will go one way or the other. But I am proud of their effort and enthusiasm in which they play, but we have to be able to do that and be disciplined at the same time.
Conley’s three-touchdown performance was impressive, but according to Sloan, Conley’s will to win motivated the Longhorns when East Coweta started their charge.
“We kind of go as he goes,” said Sloan about his star quarterback. “He’s just a competitor, man. He just refuses to lose sometimes. There have been times where I feel he has just willed us to a win, and I think he did that some in the second half. It’s a blessing and it’s humbling to coach him.”
Conley was 11-of-22 passing for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Sam Blancato caught two touchdown passes and finished with 78 yards receiving. Ebony Jackson led Kell in rushing with 138 yards and a touchdown, his longest run a 54-yarder. Leo Delphin, a senior receiver, finished with one touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Conley.
Cronic was 12-of-38 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Gerald Green rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns for the Indians. Dantarius Chunn and Hood each caught a touchdown pass.