MOULTRIE – Sometimes, you get the football fireworks for an entire game (see Lee County’s win over Valdosta). Sometimes, you get them in one quarter … if you are willing to endure a dreadful first half.
Jaycee Harden threw five touchdown passes – four in the third quarter – and Montavious Ponder continued his special teams contributions with one of the shortest punt return touchdowns anyone will see Friday on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium. Colquitt County, moving through proverbial mud in the first half, woke up for a 35-point third quarter and 49-7 win over the penalty-prone Tift County High Blue Devils.
With the Packers of head coach Justin Rogers improving to 8-1 and Lowndes rolling over Camden County, these two top three teams are heading for a Region 1-7A championship showdown next Friday at Lowndes’ Concrete Palace.
Harden was a perfect 5-for-5 passing for 210 yards in the third quarter after an 8-for-15 showing in the first half. In all, he had 279 yards, and Lemeke Brockington caught three of the touchdowns for a total of 162 yards, fifth most for one game in Packer history. This gives him 11 TDs on the season.
Harden is now all by himself for second place on two lists for touchdown passes in Colquitt County school history. This was his third five-TD pass game of the 2019 season, giving him 55 for his career (second all-time) and 32 for the season (second all-time). The only person Harden is chasing now is Chase Parrish, who had 70 in his career, 40 coming in 2015.
Daijun Edwards carried 11 times for 101 yards.
Tift defensively had all eyes – at least nine sets anyway – on Edwards leaving not much in the secondary. Two times in five snaps to start the second half, Harden found Brockington in one-on-one coverage. Each time, it was a touchdown haul, the first 75 yards then the next 82. At 7:13 of the third, Colquitt went from tied 7-7 with Tift to leading 21-7.
The penalty problems for the visitors in the third happened mainly on kick returns. They also had issues with end LaQuavion Haynes. Already with one tackle for a loss, on 3rd-and-15 at the 15 he sacked quarterback Joe Almond, who was spared a safety by inches.
With the punt coming from the back of the end zone, Ponder fielded the bounding ball on the 26. Using a block from Callon Kubiak, he scored his first punt return touchdown ever to go with two on kickoffs, three receiving and one rushing. It was 28-7 at 5:54.
Inside the final two minutes, the Packers were not through scoring. Edwards went 19 yards out of the ‘Wild Hawg’ on 3rd-and-2 at the Blue Devil 30. Dijmon Wheeler, running the same post route that was good for Brockington, caught Harden’s fourth touchdown at 1:43.
Jason Gallardo had been kicking PATs, then Emmanuel Perez kicked Colquitt to a 35-7 lead.
Kubiak, tackling Jeffery Butler of Tift on a first-down run, forced a fumble recovered by Omarion Daniels on the TC 29. Two plays later, Harden found Orion Bonner over the line from six yards out to put the home team up 42-7.
In a running clock fourth quarter, the Packers got a sixth touchdown pass, this by sophomore back-up Zane Touchton. Ontavious Carolina caught the ball running a 30-yard route, giving Touchton his first scoring throw on the varsity level.
This old Region 1-7A rivalry was a battle of the trenches for one half.
Colquitt, its second time touching the football, scored on Harden’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Brockington. This drive, that started on the Packer 21, featured the longest gain on the ground by the home team. Edwards broke tackles on the line, got upfield blocking from receiver Tajh Sanders, and went down the sidelines 41 yards to Tift’s 24-yard-line.
Ponder even gave a key perimeter block to Sanders on a 14-yard reception prior to the touchdown.
With 5:02 left in the quarter, the Blue Devils responded with a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. They picked up six first downs, four on third-down conversions, and fullback Walt Jackson bulled his way over the goal line from 1-yard out. This was a near 10-minute series ending at 7:15 until the half.
Tift’s final drive of the half saw one first down but also three tackles at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Ty French.
In the second half, Tift managed three third-quarter first downs. They also had two roughing the passer calls, holding on two kick returns plus delay and false start.
The Packers managed 129 yards total offense in the first half, and most of that came on a final – yet unsuccessful – push to the goal line with three third-down conversions. Making up for a sack, the offensive front of seniors Remon Young, Devene Jamerson, Thomas Barry, Connor Gay and junior center Trey McCoy gave Harden all the time needed for two completions to Tyler Walker for 52 yards.