(Jonesboro, Ga) – It was a chilly, November Saturday night at Tara Stadium in Jonesboro in 1996 when the Sandy Creek Patriots (6-3) and the Jonesboro Cardinals (6-3) faced each other with a playoff berth on the line. Sandy Creek had not qualified for the GHSA State Playoffs in their school history and Jonesboro hadn’t been in nine seasons. It was a playoff-play in game at it’s finest, and it did not disappoint. The Cardinals got a huge night from senior running back Donnell Brantley and a bit of help from a questionable call late to win 27-24.
The Patriots were led by TE Jabari Halloway who had committed to play collegiately at Notre Dame. He would be the first of many big-name players to come through the program in the years ahead.
The first half belonged to Brantley and the Cardinals – he had three touchdowns of 4, 1 and 13 yards. Sandy Creek relied on their quarterback, Earl Caruthers to keep things close. The Patriots went into the half down 21-14.
With the Patriots losing by three in closing minutes of the game, Sandy Creek Head Coach Don Tyre tried a bit of trickery to confuse the Cardinal secondary. Before the snap, a receiver came in motion and continued all the way across the field and onto the sideline. The strategy was for Caruthers to find Halloway on a pass route across the middle with two Jonesboro defensive backs shifted out of position on the motion. Instead, the play confused the official, when he saw the receiver motion past him and out of bounds, he assumed the Patriots had too many men of the field and signaled an Illegal Substitution penalty.
In the end, the Cardinals held on for the win. Brantley finished with 250 yards rushing on 35 carries and had a defensive sack on fourth down to end the Patriots last threat. Caruthers was equally as impressive. He finished with 122 yards rushing and 173 yards passing.
The Cardinals earned the playoff spot and the 213-mile drive to Thomasville to take on the second ranked Thomas County Central the next week, who were led by Georgia Tech signee Joe Burns. The Cardinals lost in the first round 41-22 to the eventual state champions.
Other Notes from the Game
1-The Sandy Creek coach was Don Tyre, who is now the Middle School Coach at Rising Starr Middle School in Fayetteville.
2-Holloway played all four years at Notre Dame – he caught 41 passes for 692 yards and 6 TDs. He also played in the NFL, where he had 15 Catches for 157 Yards
3-The game was played the same night as the infamous Georgia/Auburn four over time game that Georgia won 56-49
4-Brantley finished his senior year with 1,973 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns. Brantley played for Tennessee State in college.
5-Sandy Creek, which began playing varsity football in 1992, would have to wait three more seasons before making the playoffs, by then under Head Coach Rodney Walker.