CONYERS — History was made in Rockdale County Thursday evening.
While flag football in its purest form has circulated around the county for many years, girls flag football included, never had there been a league designated for the sport. That changed Thursday when Heritage and Salem faced off in the first ever official girls flag football game.
With all three local high schools in Rockdale County fielding a team this fall, all was made possible by the Arthur Blank Foundation and the Atlanta Falcons. After finding success in 2018 with the introduction of the sport in Gwinnett County, Rockdale County was one of five new counties integrated for 2019.
With a grant from the Blank foundation paying for everything needed to fund girls flag football in Rockdale County for 2019, the Patriots and Seminoles met on Thursday at Salem, a game that was special for many reasons.
“It’s been great,” Heritage head coach Brianna Patton said. “We’re just trying to follow in Gwinnett’s footsteps. We’re thankful that the Falcons gave us this opportunity and can’t wait to see it grow.”
Kristyn Goshay, a junior basketball player at Heritage, became the first Patriot to score a touchdown in the newly formed league. Having an opportunity to show off her football skills was something she couldn’t stop smiling about after the game.
“I find it crazy that they finally let us have flag football,” Goshay said. “I heard about it in Gwinnett and I always wanted to play football. To finally have a chance to play football and show that girls can do it to is awesome.”
On an evening where the Patriots defeated the Seminoles 21-12, it was the Seminoles who very nearly won the counties first ever game. Led by head coach ShaLisha Davis, the Seminoles jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead at halftime thanks to an offensive touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Salem’s Kianna Brown became the first girl in the country to score a touchdown, who was on the receiving end of a pass from quarterback Leianice Heron with just under 14 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Seminoles later built a two-touchdown lead thanks to a Cassidy Cook interception returned for a touchdown as the halftime horn sounded.
From that point on, however, it was all Patriots, who scored three second-half touchdowns en route to their victory.
Goshay got things started with a dynamic catch-and-run that saw the junior slice and dice her way through several Seminole defenders on her way to the end zone.
“It was really cool because all during practice I’ve been practicing that,” Goshay said. “We practice our little touchdown dance and I was just waiting for that moment. They gave me the ball and I just kept running and I had to get the touchdown.”
Fellow Heritage basketball standout Sade Harrell later gave the Patriots a 13-12 lead after catching a touchdown pass from Tatyanna Washington.
The final touchdown of the game was scored by Heritage’s Zaria Davis, who raced into the end zone with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
The Patriots converted all three of their 2-point conversions to finish with 21 points.
Harrell credited their second-half comeback to the team not getting down on themselves at halftime.
“We were a little nervous, but we picked it up and kept talking to each other,” Harrell said. “Everybody was cheering each other on and nobody got down on themselves. That’s how you come back. You can’t get mad. You just have to figure it out and go and that’s what we did.”
Patton, an assistant basketball coach at Heritage, was proud of the effort in the second half.
“That was great, especially after that pick six Salem had at the end of the first half,” Patton said. “That was a killer. Our quarterback was a little shaken up about that, but she shook it off and was able to bounce back and be big for us in the second half.”
Neither team was able to practice much leading up to Thursday’s game thanks to dangerous temperatures in the high 90s all week.
“I’m super proud of them for being able to execute the way that they did considering that we haven’t been able to practice that much this week,” Patton said. “We’re ready to get back to work. We have Rockdale next week. We’ll put a few different things in, work on our fundamentals and I think we’ll be good going forward.”
While it wasn’t the outcome Davis and the Seminoles had hoped for, the first-year coach at Salem was thrilled to be apart of a monumental breakthrough in the county.
“It’s very special and I’m glad to be apart of it,” Davis said. “I’m glad to be Salem’s head coach the first year that it’s here. I can’t wait to see what we do in the next few weeks leading up to the Conyers Cup and hopefully to the dome.”
At the end of the game, Davis chalked their loss up to a few mistakes that they will have to clean up moving forward.
“Six weeks into practice, we still have a lot more work to do,” Davis said. “We’ll see them again. It was a good first game. We expected to win, so we’ll just go back to the drawing board, shake this off and get ready for the next one.”