SNELLVILLE – Both Shiloh and Habersham Central were in a pre-holiday giving mood in Saturday's crucial Region 8-AAAAAA football clash.
The visiting Raiders opened the door for the host Generals to grab a big lead as they went in search of a state playoff berth for two consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 25 years.
But what Habersham gaveth, it tooketh away as Shiloh made a few mistakes of its own in the second half in letting a 28-point lead evaporate in a 45-37 Raiders win at Shiloh Community Stadium.
Shiloh coach Tino Ierulli was initially at a loss to explain how the game, and a chance at one of the last region berths in the Class AAAAAA state playoffs slipped away from the Generals (3-7, 2-4).
But after some thought, he had a better idea after watching Habersham quarterback Joshua Pickett roll up 308 yards of total offense and four touchdowns – three on the ground – in helping the Raiders secure the region's No. 3 playoff seed.
“I don't know what to say, honestly,” Ierulli said. “I don't know what happened. The first quarter, we shut (Pickett) down. He's a hell of an athlete. The kid's special, and we knew that going in.
“(But) we're so young, it's ridiculous. We have so many sophomores starting. I think that may have has something to do with it, but I also know that (Habersham) made adjustments, and they capitalized on the adjustments. We just couldn't capitalize on the adjustments we were trying to make. That's the beauty about a game. It doesn't matter what the score is at the end of the first quarter. It matters what it is at the end of the fourth quarter.”
The scoreboard looked very good for Shiloh early in the game, as it began its run of opportunism on a play that should have been a disaster when Habersham's rush smothered Brooklyn Broadway's attempt at a punt deep in Generals territory.
However, with none of the rushers going to the ball to recover it behind the line of scrimmage, Shiloh's Isaac Prince obliged and advanced the ball 13 yards to the 42-yard line, good for first down to keep the drive alive.
Shiloh slowly advanced the ball further down the filed over the next five more plays before Myles Smith found room around the left end and down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown that gave Shiloh a 7-0 lead with 7:04 left in the first quarter.
The Generals then welcomed opportunities given to them by Habersham when the Raiders turned the ball over on their first three possessions on interceptions of Brice Pollack and Ahmad Edwards and a fumble recovery by Jermaine Carter.
Antonio Meeks turned the first turnover into a 50-yard scamper after weaving his way through the Habersham defense with 4:05 left in the quarter, while Smith added his second TD of the game on a 34-yard run at the 1:58 mark.
Xavier Wright then finished off the third turnover with a 1-yard sneak and the Generals had a huge 28-0 lead with 8:56 left in the first half.
Habersham finally was able to build some momentum when it was finally able to hold onto the ball, with Pickett doing most of the heavy lifting.
The senior scored from 17 yards out with 6:28 left in the half, and again from 13 yards out at 2:41 to cut the Shiloh lead in half and pull the Raiders to within 28-14.
It appeared the Generals had seized momentum back when they drove 60 yards in 11 plays before Erick Quiquivix booted a 20-yard field goal as time expired to take a 31-14 lead into intermission.
And after Manjao Berte sacked Pickett to force a punt on Habersham's first possession of the second half, it looked like Shiloh had fully regained control.
But a fumble on the ensuing punt was recovered by Gage Church to set the Raiders up at the Shiloh 24, and Pickett ran in from 14 yards out later four plays later to cut the Generals' lead to 31-21 with 6:54 left in the third quarter.
That score completely turned the tied the rest of the way, as Shiloh's once productive offense, which had amassed 291 yards on the ground in the first half, managed just three first downs until the final minute of the game.
Meanwhile, Pickett, who ran for a game-high 163 yards on 21 carries and threw for 145 more yards on 6 of 12 passing, and the Habersham offense began to dominate, scoring on its final four possessions of the game.
The Raiders first pulled to within a touchdown at 31-24 on Samuel Guest's 32-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the third quarter, and then pulled even at 38-all when Jackson Clouatre powered in from four yards out with 10:08 remaining.
Pickett then added the knockout punch with two big plays in the fourth quarter.
The first came when he threaded the needed to spring Grayson Taylor for a 56-yard TD scoring strike that gave the Raiders their first lead of the game at 38-31 with 5:16 left.
Despite turning the ball over on downs on its next possession, Shiloh had one last chance to get the ball back and perhaps force overtime when forcing Habersham into a third-and-5 situation on its own 36 with 1:04 left.
But Pickett put an end to any thought of a Generals comeback by dashing through a hole and not only picking up the backbreaking first down, but going the distance for a 64-yard TD that put the game away at 45-31 with 1:08 left.
Shiloh added a score on the final play of the game when Meeks hit Nas Stroud with a 12-yard TD pass, the Generals couldn't overcome the huge day from Pickett, as well as Clouatre, who finished with 96 yards and a TD on 13 carries, and Taylor, who posted 127 yards on four receptions.
Meeks led the Shiloh offense with 95 yards and a score on 17 carries, and finished 7 of 12 for 92 yards through the air.
HABERSHAM CENTRAL 45, SHILOH 37
Hab. Central 0 14 10 21 – 45
Shiloh 21 10 0 6 – 37
Shiloh: Myles Smith 35 run (Erick Quiquivix kick), 7:04
Shiloh: Antonio Meeks 50 run (kick blocked), 4:05
Shiloh: M. Smith 34 run (Quiquivix kick), 1:58
Shiloh: Xavier Wright 1 run (Quiquivix kick), 8:56
Habersham: Joshua Pickett 17 run (Samuel Guest kick), 6:28
Habersham: Pickett 13 run (Guest kick), 2:41
Shiloh: Quiquivix 20 FG, 0:00
Habersham: Pickett 14 run (Guest kick), 6:54
Habersham: Guest 32 FG, 1:35
Habersham: Jackson Clouatre 4 run (Guest kick), 10:08
Habersham: Grayson Taylor 56 pass from Pickett (Guest kick), 5:16
Habersham: Pickett 64 run (Guest kick), 0:52.8
Shiloh: Nas Stroud 12 pass from Meeks (no conversion attempted), 0:00
First Downs 13 18
Rushes-Yards 34-259 51-287
Passing Yards 145 92
Comp.-Att.-INT 6-10-2 7-12-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties-Yards 4-55 9-80
Rushing: Habersham: Pickett 21-163, Couatre 13-96. Shiloh: Meeks 17-95, M. Smith 2-63, Lorenzo Moore 13-59, Robert Shumake 4-23, Isaac Prince 1-13, Wright 2-8, Stroud 4-5, Brooklyn Broadway 1-(-13).
Passing: Habersham: Pickett 6-10-2, 145. Shiloh: Meeks 7-12-0, 92.
Receiving: Habersham: Taylor 4-127, Patrick Tedder 2-18. Shiloh: Stroud 3-16, Wright 2-26, Jamar Shavuo 1-45, M. Smith 1-5.