Charlie Iannone has watched a recording of Benedictine’s 2022 state championship football game more times than he can count.
A senior offensive lineman, Iannone knows how it ended, of course, with a dramatic goal-line stand by the Cadets defense on the final four plays of the game to beat Cedartown 14-13 for the GHSA Class 4A title on Dec. 9 in Atlanta.
One more viewing, on Wednesday evening with his teammates, coaches and Benedictine supporters during the ring ceremony on campus, was emotional for Iannone.
“I hadn’t watched it in a while, so it was a little nerve-racking,” he said. “I got chills rewatching it again, so it’s nice.”
The team, perhaps for the last time together, watched a video of the last 1 minute and 14 seconds, and then the exuberance that followed on the field in the downpour at Center Parc Stadium.
“It’s a great moment to share with my brothers, and I’ll have that forever for the rest of my life,” said senior defensive end Alijah Alexander, who was in on the tackles at the climatic finish.
Players talked about the brotherhood of Benedictine football, and with Iannone there is a literal thread.
Iannone was among many who received their second rings, as Benedictine has won two consecutive state titles. Head coach Danny Britt noted that an Iannone family member has played for all four of the school’s state football title teams. Charlie’s brother Nick Iannone (Class of 2018) was part of the 2014 and 2016 squads, and their brother Tony Iannone (Class of 2019) was on the 2016 team.
The 2022 squad, missing many stars who had graduated from the 2021 roster, went 13-2 overall and 5-0 in Regin 3-4A. But despite gaudy numbers like outscoring opponents 495-155, the Cadets faced early adversity having lost two of their first four games – albeit to outstanding teams in Miami Columbus (41-15) and Ware County (14-10), both on the road.
Za’Quan Bryan said that after the second loss, he and the other seniors had a meeting before practice and were determined to get the team on track.
“We did that and we went on a roll,” recalled Bryan, a standout on offense, defense and special teams who will play defensive back this fall at Minnesota. “I’m just proud I was able to spend my senior year with this senior class. It’s just amazing to be able to win back-to-back state championships.”
The Cadets rolled to 11 straight victories, including five playoff wins.
“This was supposed to be a little bit of a down year for the Cadets. That’s what everybody else outside (of BC) was saying,” Britt told the audience on Wednesday. “I feel very strongly that the seniors refused to allow that to happen. I’m not just saying that because we won and it was a good senior group.
“The character the seniors showed and continue to show, even when sometimes things weren’t going their way – meaning that some of them weren’t starting or weren’t playing as much or getting the ball or whatever. They continued to show the character, to show up and go to work, and work the way you’re supposed to.”
Britt said after the ceremony that there were 24 seniors on the team, with only seven starters including three specialists (punter, kicker, snapper). They put the team before themselves and made the most of their opportunities, including in the championship game.
Alexander, who is headed to play football this fall at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, credited hard work and dedication to repeat as state champions.
“Every single person on the team has to chip in and do something,” he said. “We all do that and play our role. We stay disciplined and play together.”
While Benedictine is graduating many impact players, many should be back, including blue-chip quarterback Luke Kromenhoek (verbally committed to Florida State), offensive lineman Jacobe Ward, defensive lineman Jeremiah Thomas, linebackers Wilkes Albert and Bryce Baker, outside linebacker and defensive end Herbert “Third” Scroggins, and running backs RaSean Matthews, Ack Edwards and Na’Seir Samuel.
“They have a lot of potential,” Bryan said. “They have to stay together and not let anything distract them, anything interfere with the game and how they play. They need to come together like the last two senior classes have done. If they stay together, play together, really make that bond, they’re unstoppable.”
Iannone said it was also important to forget about the previous year, something Britt touched on in his remarks to the audience.
“Now we’re going to celebrate this for a minute, then it’s over,” said Britt, whose team concluded spring practice on Thursday. “Guys, we’re going back to work at 8 in the morning, right? We’ve got a lot to do. But we will celebrate it tonight.”
Benedictine had 107 rings to hand out Wednesday to players, coaches, staff and other contributors, including director of football operations Susan Johnson, communications director Noell Barnidge and energetic super fan Dwight Ruffin, who got perhaps the largest reaction from the players.
PHOTO CREDIT: Benedictine Communications Director Noell Barnidge
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