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The 2021 Southeast Middle School League Football Championship was played between undefeated Emanuel County Institute and undefeated Toombs County. This was a rematch from last year’s championship in which Toombs County won 21-12. Toombs County defeated Screven County 19-0 to advance to the championship game while ECI defeated Jenkins County 38-20 to earn a right to this year’s big dance.

The “Battle of the Bulldogs” began when Ja’shon Branch recovered an onside kick to start off the game.

After a promising start, offensively, penalties and lack of execution caused the drive to stall out at the Toombs County 25-yard line. Toombs methodically drove down to the ECI 12, but the ECI defense held on to come up with two big stops. Patron Mack and Terence Carlyle met a Toombs County running back in the backfield on third-and-1. On the next play, fourth-and-1, Creed Sanders and Carlyle wrapped up Toombs County’s quick running back for a turnover on downs.

ECI moved the ball from their own 20-yard line on a nicely executed trap play that Tuff Boddiford advanced to midfield. The offense continued to move down the field with tough running by Ab Marsh, Chase Johnson, Tyler Foreman, and Boddiford. Finally, Boddiford scored on a pitch from 1 yard out. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, but ECI led 6-0.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Toombs County returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked by Ja’shon Branch, and the score was 6-6.

With under a minute to go before halftime, Johnson took a reverse 60 yards down to the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Jackson Kennedy scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Foreman ran in a sweep to convert the 2-point conversion, and the halftime score was 14-6.

ECI received the ball to start the second half. After driving into Toombs County territory, Toombs’ defense stiffened and caused ECI to turn the ball over on downs. However, Foreman intercepted a Toombs County pass on ECI’s 45-yard line and returned it to the Toombs County 25-yard line. Five plays later, Boddiford scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion attempt was stopped by the Toombs County defense, and the score was 20-6 starting the fourth quarter.

The ECI defense quickly caused another turnover when Johnson knocked a ball loose from a Toombs County receiver. Ja’shon Branch was there to recover the fumble. The ECI offense quickly capitalized on the turnover when Boddiford ran in a pitch from 23 yards out. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Dogs up 28-6.

As they had done all season long and all game long, the ECI defense forced another turnover. This one would seal the deal for any comeback thought by Toombs County. Jordan Handsom tipped a Toombs County pass that a diving Boddiford intercepted. A first down later, the offense went into victory formation. After Kennedy took a knee, the clock ran out and the celebration began. The final score was 28-6.

ECI finished the season 8-0 and champions of the Southeast Region Middle School Football League. This year’s team was made up of a great group of hardworking kids, according to head coach Greg Kennedy. The season started in June, working out in the weight room building strength and teamwork. The team was led by an outstanding defense that only gave up an average of 6 points a game. The offense was led by a strong running game, an effective passing game, and a hard-working offensive line.

“This is the Bulldogs’ seventh championship appearance since 2009 and our fifth consecutive appearance,” said Head Coach Kennedy. “ECI has won four championships since 2009. The eighth grade class of Vyntavius Hughes, Jordan Handsom, Jackson Kennedy, Tuff Boddiford, Jeremiah Budgett, Creed Sanders, Braxton Oliver, Jon Wesley Olliff, Wessyn Willoughby, Daon Bethea, Noah Johnson, Tyler Foreman, and Johnny Baird have only lost two games in three seasons. They won a championship two out of their three seasons.”

Also on this year’s team were: sixth graders NAMES HERE and seventh graders NAMES HERE.

The Crossroads Chronicle congratulates Coach Kennedy and his staff on a great season preparing these young men for battle each week. The success they had this year is evidence of that preparation. We look forward to seeing these young men on Friday nights as they transition to high school next year.