SUWANEE - Devin Sabina gave the Central Gwinnett fans a feeling they had waited on for 12 years.
The junior kicker boomed a low-trajectory, 52-yard field goal with two seconds left on Friday night to lift the visiting Black Knights to a 17-14 win over Collins Hill. His clutch kick, which capped a 10-point fourth-quarter rally, secured Central's first playoff victory since 1993 and sent the team into the second round of the Class AAAAA
The news gets even better for Central, the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AAAAA. Because Walton, No. 4 from 6-AAAAA, upset Harrison 27-26, the Black Knights will host Walton next Friday in the second round.
"This is huge," Central head coach Bradley Warren said. "We're finally getting where we need to be. It's slow, but we're getting where we need to be. I told them, 'We're going to play hard in these playoffs. We've got a lot of heart and we're going to play hard.' We challenged them at halftime and it worked. They came out and played well. I was just extremely proud of their heart and effort tonight."
Friday's game came down to a fierce rally by the visitors, starting with a game-tying 18-yard touchdown pass from Trip Pognant to Rolando Dyer with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter. Central (8-3) then held Collins Hill on its next drive and used its timeouts wisely to give Sabina a chance.
Pognant had a rough night going until the final moments - he threw three interceptions, two by the Eagles' Michael Young (who finishes the season with 12) - but he stepped up in crunch time.
The senior quarterback hooked up with Yusuf Holloway on a 29-yard pass to get down to the Collins Hill 35-yard line with less than a minute to play. Although the Black Knights didn't advance deeper, they didn't need to thanks to the outstanding kick.
The snap on the game-winner was low, but Pognant made a tremendous play to trap the ball and set it up. Sabina, now 10 of 12 on field goals this season, ripped the kick that easily split the uprights. He said he hits kicks up to 57 yards in practice, and this one had that kind of distance, even though it needed just 52 to get the job done.
"I had to make it. I had to make it for our team," Sabina said. "They fought hard to get us back in the game. I just had to make that kick."
The kicker also said he took notice of the low snap, and the play his holder made on it.
"I saw it, I saw it," Sabina said of the low snap. "I congratulated (Pognant) after that. He made a nice play on that."
Central jumped ahead 7-0 early, taking advantage of a 57-yard run by Beau Johnson to set up a 19-yard TD run from Holloway. Collins Hill (6-5) responded with two TD runs from Rock Robinson, the first set up by a 57-yard pass from Ryan Jones to Kurt Diel. Robinson finished with 110 hard-earned yards on
Johnson, who had 27 carries for 182 yards, carried the load on the late, game-tying drive. But the big play was the 18-yard TD pass from Pognant to Dyer, who caught the ball inside the 5-yard line and pushed three Eagle defenders into the end zone with 1:56 left.
Less than two minutes later, the Black Knights were celebrating again.
"I told our kids, 'There's probably not but two or three field-goal kickers in the state who can hit (a 52-yarder) like that," Collins Hill head coach Larry Sherrill said. "We played hard and it was a great high school football game. I think it shows what great spirit our team has to overcome a 1-3 start and beat the good teams in Region 7 to earn our second seed spot.
"There was a lot of talk about ties and it was just a tiebreaker (that gave us the No. 2 seed). We earned the second-place seed and we represented our region very well. I'm proud of our kids."
Warren's just as proud. He and his staff have taken Central back to the playoff successes of years past.
"We knew we were going to be in a war tonight," Warren said. "(Collins Hill's) the No. 2 seed for a reason. We felt like we played a pretty tough schedule to get us ready. In the second half, we did what we had to do."