With only about 20 seconds left on the clock, Decatur was looking for nothing short of a miracle. So what do they do? How about a backward pass over to their TE Tristan Strickland, who then threw the football nearly 50 yards downfield to junior receiver Malachi Miller who was running a deep post.
As Miller crossed the goalline with just seconds remaining, Decatur high school had almost certainly secured a region championship over rival Chamblee. Both 5A programs were two of the best football in 5A, but ultimately, the Bulldogs pulled off the region championship.
“It still feels unreal on us winning region against a really great team. My coach told me to just run my favorite route and that was a post and I caught the ball from Tristan to win 40-38 with 11 seconds left,” Malachi Miller said on the winning play.
Strickland, who delivered the pass, had a lot to say about the game-winning score, “It felt great to get this big win over Chamblee. It was an amazing experience and something I will hold near to me forever and never! I will never forget this moment and it will always be one of the brightest moments of my high school career. This game and the moments with my teammates and coaches shared on the field together were so amazing. We are Region Champs, so happy to be a part of Decatur’s history. Chamblee is a good solid team so we knew this would not be an easy win. But we worked and we believed that we could win, and we never gave up on ourselves.”
With the game on the line, it’s definitely not conventional to go with your tight end to make the last-second throw, but the junior is traditionally a baseball player with a strong arm. The final action was nuanced, so Strickland broke down what happened right before the big throw.
“Before the final play coach Felt called timeout and coach Zay told us to get in a huddle. He said ‘we are going to do a toss pass to Tristan.’ After reviewing the routes with the rest of my teammates, Coach Zay turned to me and said, ‘Tristan you have TC in the flats for the first down, front side you got Kedric and Kenric on a go route, and backside you got Malachi on the deep post.’ Coach Zay said they will probably overplay to K & K (Lanier brothers), if so, throw it as deep and as far as you can to the middle of the field for Malachi. If Malachi isn’t open take the check down to TC.”
Strickland continued, “I never got a chance to look at TC. Both of their deep safeties rotated to our two big men leaving Malachi 1v1 on the backside with the corner. As soon as I saw the safety rotate, I threw it as far as I could to the endzone. Malachi was playing great all night long, just like he has all season, so I knew it was a TD as soon as it left my hand. I feel like everything was in slow motion as he caught it and dove into the endzone and the stadium erupted.”
With a region championship in hand, Decatur is headed into the 5A playoffs in great shape with a number 1 seed. The program has slowly been building up over the last few years, and the win over Chamblee gives the program its first region championship since 2004.
On the recruiting front, both athletes are starting to see relationships materialize. For Miller, he has been a long-time follower of our company and someone who has been attentive to the recruiting process.
“My recruitment right now is going smooth. I have a couple of schools just getting to know me, keeping in touch with me, and letting them know that they like me,” he said.
While for Strickland, the junior has taken a hiatus from football for the last 7 years but stated it was always his ‘first love.’
“I haven’t played football since I was 9 years old. This is my first year really playing football again and I am looking forward to making a name for myself. No one knows I’m playing football just yet, but I do have some buzz following me in baseball with a couple of offers on the table right now. This year I decided to play football again and I’m enjoying every moment of it. I was really rusty at first but now I’m starting to knock a little bit of the dust off. I still have a long way to go before colleges take notice, but I’m looking forward to the journey.”
Both juniors said they would like to cap off the season with a state title. They feel like a region championship shouldn’t be enough, and they would like to send off their seniors by winning in December. Miller, who has been making impact plays all season stands a chance to make All-State returner, and has said that is another end-of-season goal.
With the GHSA regular season ending this Friday, Decatur is going to be tested again here in November. With their first region championship in almost two decades under their belt, and a little autumnal magic on their side, the Bulldogs could be the surprise of the 5A playoffs.
So be sure to follow @RecruitGeorgia on Twitter to hear the latest on Decatur and their junior duo in Strickland and Miller to go along with athletes all across the state of Georgia.
Phenomenal Tristan Strickland!