Marietta starts season No. 1, can end season that way

Marietta's Arik Gilbert: Montlick & Associates Athlete of the Week

Marietta's quick-score ability was at its best in the final three minutes of the first half of its Class AAAAAAA semifinal game with Parkview. That's when the Blue Devils struck for two touchdowns that turned the momentum in their favor and paved the way for a 42-31 win at the Big Orange Jungle.

The No. 6 Blue Devils (12-2) will play No. 1 Lowndes (14-0) for the state championship on Saturday. Marietta is looking for its first state title since 1967. No. 7 Parkview finished the season 12-2.

"We practice what we call ‘urgency' when we try to get two scores and a stop in the final two minutes," Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. "So our kids are used to that moment, they were able to produce at that time because they prepare for it every day."

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The Blue Devils flipped the switch after Parkview had kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead with 2:54 remaining. Marietta responded by scoring in three plays, the final a 69-yard pass from Harrison Bailey to Taji Johnson, who fought off two Parkview defenders over the final 10 yards to reach the end zone. That gave the Blue Devils a 21-17 lead with 1:41 remaining. The Marietta defense forced Parkview to punt and started at its own 26 with 43.9 seconds left. The Blue Devils quickly reached the Parkview 6 thanks to a 27-yard pass to Arik Gilbert and a 24-yard pass to Rickey White. They scored when Gilbert threw an option pass to Bailey for a 6-yard touchdown and a 28-17 lead.

"It was the time in my career that I ever caught a touchdown pass," Bailey said. "We most definitely had confidence we were going to score in the last minute. Coach has us prepared for moments like that and it was a big boost going into halftime."

Parkview scored to start the second half when running back Cody Brown broke loose for a 50-yard run, but Marietta responded with a clock-draining 11-play touchdown drive capped when Bailey threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to White.

Marietta put it away when it forced Parkview to punt and scored on a 34-yard pass to Gilbert. Parkview added a final touchdown on a 17-yard run by Brown.

Bailey completed 22 of 26 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. He was intercepted once, but was never sacked by the Parkview defense that had 13 of them over the last two games.

"Their offensive line did a great job on our pass rush," Parkview coach Eric Godfree said. "We were trying to bring them the inside, from the outside, crossing them … they did a great job picking it up. Their pass protection won them the game."

Morgan said, "We've got a great offensive line. They don't get enough credit. Everybody thinks we're all about quarterbacks and receivers and running backs, but we've got a great offensive line. They've been through it."

Gilbert caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass; he also had a sack. White caught eight passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns and ran twice for 45 yards. Kimani Vidal helped shorten the game for Marietta by running 22 times for 84 yards.

Parkview tailback Cody Brown rushed 26 times for 195 yards and two touchdown and Tyler Curtis rushed 10 time for 79 yards. Jordan Williams completed 8 of 17 passes for 121 yards, five of them to Jared Brown for 111 yards.

Marietta scored first on a 52-yard pass to Gilbert and Parkview answered on a 14-yard run by Tyler Curtis.

Parkview's Terrian Williams II intercepted a pass to set up the next score, which came on a fake punt. The ball was snapped to upback Brown, who tossed a pass to Curtis for a 51-yard touchdown.

Marietta tied the game when Bailey threw a 21-yard touchdown to White, but Parkview regained the lead 17-14 when Nolan McCord kicked a 39-yard field goal with 2:51 left in the half.