WINDER -- After posting what seemed like an endless streak of heart-stopping wins, Apalachee's "Cardiac Cats" finally lost their pulse on Friday night.
Playing in its first quarterfinal playoff game against top-ranked Griffin, Apalachee's offense never got going while the Bears (13-0) pulled away in the second half to post a 24-3 win in the Class AAAA playoffs.
With the win, Griffin lives to play Sandy Creek next week in the semifinals while Apalachee (12-1) saw its historic season come to an end.
"I just hate it for our seniors," said Apalachee head coach Shane Davis, whose team won its first Region 8-AAAA title this year. "They've been such a huge, huge part of what's been going on here the past four years. We've had a great run and it hurts tonight but the sun will come up in the morning and they'll look back on it one day and say, 'Hey, we won 12 football games.'"
Things looked like they were headed for another nail biter for the Wildcats as Apalachee trailed by only four points at 7-3 at the half.
Griffin took the early lead in the first quarter when quarterback Marcus Waller hit Buck Hancock for a 32-yard touchdown pass and looked like it was going to carry that lead into the locker room but a late turnover in the second quarter by the Bears opened the door for Apalachee.
With 35 seconds left before the half, Hancock fumbled on his own 31-yard line and Javier Crawford pounced on it for his second fumble recovery of the night.
Apalachee took a couple of shots at the end zone with its passing game but couldn't connect, prompting place kicker Guy Hunt to boot home a 40-yard field goal as time expired to cut the score to 7-3.
"We had some opportunities at the end of the first half and I thought those three points were big at the time," Davis said.
Griffin took the second-half kickoff and Apalachee's defense forced a punt, taking over on its own 27-yard line. Any momentum gained from Hunt's field goal and the stop by the Wildcat defense went away on the drive's third play when defensive end Xzavier Dickson snatched a Mike Norman pass out of the air and ran in untouched for a 31-yard touchdown.
Dickson, a 6-foot-5 junior considered to be a top college prospect, completely changed the tone of the game with his pick six.
"That really took the wind out of us," Davis said. "We came out and stopped them the first time they had the ball in the second half and that really hurt us."
Up 14-3, Griffin forced an Apalachee punt on the ensuing possession and marched 80 yards on six plays on its next possession, capping it off when D.J. Morgan ran it in from 34 yards out with 4:10 left in the third for a 21-3 lead.
Griffin's speedy defense also did a nice job of containing the Wildcats' running game, holding Apalachee to 66 yards on the ground, which was led by 35 yards on 14 carries from Jon Lee.