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LEAVING ON TOP: Small senior classes power state titles

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Brookwood's Jamaal Cole, left, head coach Mark Crews, Cameron Lynch and other Broncos  celebrate as Crews holds up the Class AAAAA state championship trophy at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Brookwood's Jamaal Cole, left, head coach Mark Crews, Cameron Lynch and other Broncos celebrate as Crews holds up the Class AAAAA state championship trophy at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

When the last second ticked off the Georgia Dome clock Saturday night, Brookwood quarterback Ben McLane made a direct run to his father, assistant coach Benjie McLane, and the two shared an embrace that lasted nearly 30 seconds.

It was the culmination of a long career in maroon and gold for the Bronco senior, who has gone to Brookwood games since he was in diapers, much like fellow senior Nick Moore, the son of assistant Dale Moore. McLane tagged along to practices with his father as well as his grandfather and namesake Ben “Doc” McLane, Brookwood’s longtime trainer until he passed away in 2006.

There was plenty of celebrating to do after the Broncos’ 52-38 win over Colquitt County for the Class AAAAA state title, but McLane saved the first moments for family.

“It was awesome to share it with (my father),” said McLane, who was 8 of 13 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s title game. “After that, I went and saw my whole family in the stands. It just felt great. You spend more than a year preparing for this and it was great to enjoy it with all the coaches and players.”

McLane is part of a small senior class by Brookwood standards, a group with only 24 players who won their final high school game on the biggest stage.

The same can be said up at Buford, the county’s other high school football state champion. The Wolves won their fourth straight Class AA title last Friday at the Dome, beating Calhoun 31-24 behind a senior class of only 13 players.

“It’s very exciting to win and we just wanted to do it for our seniors,” Buford defensive end Rick LeGrant said. “We were playing for our seniors. We wanted to go out on top.”

The Buford seniors couldn’t have gone out any better, winning four titles in their four high school seasons.

The group wasn’t heavy with stars, as the Wolves relied heavily on a junior class loaded with talent. But the seniors were still important leaders and featured some of the team’s more important impact players like running backs Seon Jones and Dominique Swope, quarterback Alex Ross and two-way playmaker Eric Barr.

“You’re only as good as your senior class,” Buford head coach Jess Simpson said.

Brookwood leaned more heavily on its senior group in terms of starting roles, from skill guys like McLane, Moore, A.J. Sims, Nathaniel Minor and Cameron Faulkner to linemen like Reeves Blankenship, Blake Fussell, Elliott Graves and Lawson Hale.

That doesn’t mention the star of the state championship game on defense, senior linebacker Cameron Lynch, or exceptional kicker Erick Yang.

“This is a small group (of seniors) comparatively speaking,” Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. “We’ve had as many as 36, 37 seniors, but this group of kids bought into the program and doing the things we need to do to win. What a great bunch of kids. They’re good students and good players.”

The weekend’s two state championships continued Buford’s amazing run — only West Rome from 1982-85 had ever won four straight titles before the Wolves — and put Gwinnett back on top of AAAAA.

Brookwood’s title, its first since 1996, was the county’s first outright AAAAA champion since Parkview in 2002 (Peachtree Ridge was co-champion in 2006 after a state finals tie). Between Brookwood and Buford, it marked the fourth time that Gwinnett has won multiple state football titles in the same season, joining Buford and Wesleyan in 2008 and Buford and Parkview in 2001 and 2002.

The title for Brookwood also put the Broncos at No. 24 in USA Today’s national rankings.

Metro Atlanta dominated the two-day event at the Georgia Dome with four of the five championships. Chattahoochee (AAAA) and Sandy Creek (AAA) also won titles, leaving Clinch County (A) as the only team not from the region to win state.

“That stuff sort of runs in cycles and it gives the fans something to talk about,” Crews said. “I think everybody knows metro Atlanta and particularly Gwinnett County has great football. This just sort of validates what everybody thinks about this area.”