Gray Collegiate falls short of title dreams despite pushing past outside noise

Posted 12/7/23

Gray Collegiate entered the 2023 football season unaware of how many games it would play and where, but throughout all the distractions, the players’ focus remained on playing for a state title.

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Gray Collegiate falls short of title dreams despite pushing past outside noise


Gray Collegiate entered the 2023 football season unaware of how many games it would play and where, but throughout all the distractions, the players’ focus remained on playing for a state title.

 The team made it to its division’s state championship game but fell short of winning, falling to Oceanside Nov. 30 in what could be the team’s last game at the 2A level. 

 “It’s a bad feeling because of how hard we worked against these other good teams, ranked teams and the teams that actually didn’t quit,” tackle Nate Carson said. “Yeah it was quite hard.”

 The disappointment was seen all across the faces of the War Eagles’ roster after the game. But this game will be a reminder for next season where the goal will be the same.

 “We’re going to be real motivated,” Carson said. “We’re going to come back and we’re going to be at states again, and this time, we’re going to win.”

 Back in August, before the season started, the War Eagles were unsure how many times they’d get to take the field before playoffs. The team was at the center of the ongoing competitive balance debate that is shaking the landscape of high school sports after all its region opponents forfeited games in protest. 

 The team faced the possibility of not playing a game from September to the beginning of the playoffs but found opponents from out of state to play in replacement.

 “They didn’t let any of this stuff really bother them,” Holmes said.  “It bothered me more I think than it did them, but they just worked through it, played as a team, had been a one-seed all the way through, been ranked No. 1 all through the year, until tonight.”

 The trips to these schools fostered team bonding and created memories some players will never forget.

 “It’s going to be a great team to remember,” quarterback Tyler Waller said. “Going through hours and hours of bus rides all the way to Florida, Washington, D.C. Playing top 20 ranked teams, we got the goal of getting here, we just didn’t win it.”

 Gray played against some of the country’s top high school football programs. The War Eagles traveled to Washington D.C. to play St. Johns on Sept. 16. Two weeks later, Gray played its last home game of the regular season against Georgia’s Portal High School. 

 The team traveled to Florida to end the season for games against Clearwater Academy International and IMG Academy.

 The record in these games could have been better at (1-3), but the experience gained would help the team on its run to the championship game. 

 “It was always hard. We always had to fight against bigger teams like IMG, Clearwater, St. John’s and teams quitting on us,” Carson said. “But it was a good journey.”

 Gray was a force in the first two rounds of the playoffs, scoring 62 points in each of its games. The War Eagles shut Pelion out in the opening round and held Chesnee to 14 points in round two. 

 The team survived a late-game thriller against Strom Thurmond to win by a touchdown in the next round before beating defending 2A champion Abbeville 27-12 in the Upper State final.

 Thursday’s game against Oceanside appeared to be another Gray Collegiate win led by its explosive offensive attack. But after the team’s first two drives the offense would not pick up steam again until the second half. 

 Gray’s defensive play allowed the team to lead at the midway point, but in the second half, Oceanside’s offense cracked the code and picked Gray apart in the passing game. 

The War Eagles scored two second-half touchdowns, but costly mistakes from the offense were the difference maker in allowing Oceanside to come back and win the game with a two-minute drive touchdown. 

Thursday was going to be the end of the season for Gray regardless of the result. Ending on a loss makes it a little more difficult walking off the field.

“It hurts but we’ll have to come back next year, fight even harder,” Waller said. 

With new realignment rules set to be in effect next season, the War Eagles may have played its final 2A game. The new multiplier rule could force Gray to move up to 3A or 4A.

The team should look back on this season as a successful year. The War Eagles finished 15-4, including a 6-0 region record thanks to the forfeits. 

“This group has gotten so close,” Waller said. “We fight for each other, we care for each other. Just this one’s hard to get through.”

Gray outscored its opponents 587-360 this year, and if you remove the scores from the replacement games, the difference is even more lopsided. 

“It’s still a great accomplishment by our guys, by our team, to fight and get through everything we faced, and still make it here and play for a state championship,” Holmes said. “I’m still extra proud of these guys.”

Holmes said when he looks back at the season he’ll only remember the positives. 

“I’m going to enjoy the goods,” Holmes said. “The trips that we took to D.C. was great, down to IMG, you get to see those guys. At home, not losing a game, haven’t lost a game in four years.”


Looking ahead

Many players had strong statistical seasons and most will return next year, including sophomore Waller who recorded over 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, despite splitting snaps for the majority of the year.

Sophomore Dre’von Dopson took the other share of Quarterback snaps. He played in 10 games and threw for 732 yards, 9 touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Gray’s running back core is led by two juniors. B.J. Montgomery led the team with over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. Caleb Ford added more than 500 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The team will bring back one of its leading defensive backs, sophomore Aiden Legger. He had four interceptions this season, including one in the championship game.

A pair of disruptive forces will also be back for the War Eagles. Junior Zeb Taylor and sophomore Michael Boulware spent their season pressuring the opposing quarterbacks and hitting runners in the backfield. 

“It’s alright we always got next year, and us underclassmen are going to show out,” Carson said. 

The team will see its biggest drop off in its wide receiver room, which is losing four of the team’s top five pass catchers. 

Seniors Jamarious Lockett, Zai Offord, Connor Holmes and Blaine Redmond are all set to graduate, leaving Zion Job as the lone receiver to have 10 catches or at least 50 yards. Job finished his junior year with over 500 yards. 

The team will try and reload for another shot at a championship next year regardless of their classification. 

“I think everyone will be very motivated to get back next year and always keep fighting,” Waller said. “This will be great to learn from but hard right now.”


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