His name is Jake Smith, and you don’t know him.
He’s a freshman at the Air Force Academy, a backup quarterback who played in one game this past season—the opener against Colgate—and ran the ball one time for 11 yards. On the day I talked to him, he was commuting from home in Roswell, Ga., to Colorado Springs, Colo., to start his second semester at the Academy.
You don’t know him, but he has a bragging right nobody else in Gridworld can currently match. He did what Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, Ian Book and two-dozen other college quarterbacks have failed to do: he beat Trevor Lawrence.
“That,” Smith said, “was pretty sweet.”
The Clemson QB has been a No. 1 national recruit, a national champion, potentially a repeat champion and eventually will be the No. 1 NFL draft choice. He is nationally renowned and instantly recognizable, and well on his way to tens of millions of dollars in 2021.
But most of all, Lawrence has been a relentless winner. He has won 70 of the last 71 games he’s been a part of—29 straight in college, and a 41-game winning streak in high school.
But there was one stunning result in between those streaks, in the second round of the 2017 Georgia 4A high school state playoffs. It was a game between Cartersville High, a two-time defending state champion led by All-Everything senior Lawrence, against Blessed Trinity, led by an anonymous junior named Jake Smith.
“I just remember the whole week there were all these newspaper articles about how big an underdog we were,” Smith recalled. “Somebody had a point spread in the 30s.
“We had nothing to lose. We knew it was going to be fun.”
At their weekly goal meeting, the Titans set a high bar—holding Lawrence to less than 150 passing yards. Then they “had a lot of bonding talk about it being the biggest game we will play,” Smith said with a laugh.
What transpired was a game unexpectedly dominated by defense. Blessed Trinity pressured Lawrence all night, sacking and chasing him, keeping him from maximizing his powerful and precise right arm. The longer the game wore on without the Purple Hurricanes of Cartersville pulling away, the more Blessed Trinity believed in itself.
“My memories are pretty vivid,” said BT coach Tim McFarlin with a laugh, and he proved it by reciting Lawrence’s stat line for the game: 16 of 29 for just 148 yards and one touchdown. Goal achieved.
“This is year 39 for me coaching in Georgia, and I’ve seen a lot of good quarterbacks. Trevor is by far the best. He was bigger, much faster and had more agility than we thought until we got on the field. And he is tough—we hit him hard. Everything he showed against Ohio State, I watched that and said, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve seen that before.’
“Our gameplan was to keep all the throws in front of us, and to bring one more guy than they could block.”
It worked better than even McFarlin and his staff might have imagined, with Smith playing both ways and delivering some big hits playing safety. Still, Cartersville had rallied from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead, and could have put the game away if a receiver had not fumbled inside the Blessed Trinity 10-yard line.
Cartersville was clinging to a 17-14 lead in the final minute when Smith guided Blessed Trinity to the Purple Hurricanes’ 26-yard line. The Titans had a talented kicker, and a modest passing game, so Cartersville might have been thinking their opponent would play conservatively to set up the tying field goal. McFarlin did nothing to dissuade that by lining up in a heavy run formation—two backs and two tight ends.
Instead, though, he called for a deep shot to the only wide receiver on the field— a double move down the right side by receiver Ryan Davis.
Smith and Davis had grown up together, playing both football and baseball. This was their moment. Smith faked a handoff, pumped a short throw to Davis to freeze the defense, then rolled and fired for the end zone.
“The minute he let it go, he got hit really hard,” McFarlin said of Smith.
“I had a facemask in my facemask,” Smith concurred. “I was on my back and didn’t see it. But I could tell from the crowd what happened.”
Davis made the catch with 12 seconds left. Touchdown. They had defeated the previously unbeatable (and currently unbeatable) Trevor Lawrence.
“Honestly, it’s a game I wouldn’t want to play again,” McFarlin said. “It was probably a one-in-10 outcome.”
That’s the beauty of sports, though. You only have to be better that day, and Blessed Trinity was.
By all accounts, Cartersville handled itself with class in stunning defeat. Cartersville coach Joey King came to their locker room to congratulate the Titans on their landmark victory.
“That’s what my heart told me to do coming off the field,” said King, now a college assistant coach at South Florida. “They had a bunch of good players and played a great game. I told them that not a lot of people come out of Cartersville with a win.”
Then King had to deal with the devastation in his own locker room, where a group of more than 30 seniors had won so much but failed to go out on top.
“It was heartwrenching for them,” King said.
Smith said Lawrence went through the handshake line and offered his own congratulations to the only opponent he couldn’t defeat.
“Trevor’s intangibles are exceptional,” McFarlin said. “I think he’s deeply competitive and deeply committed to his teammates and deeply spiritual.”
McFarlin said that other teams in the playoffs rejoiced at the early downfall of heavy favorite Cartersville, thinking it had opened up the bracket for them. Instead, it was the launching pad for the Titans’ own run.
Blessed Trinity won that 2017 state title, then repeated in ’18 when Smith, Davis and three other longtime friends were seniors and formed the nucleus of the team. They won a third straight title last month.
Davis went on to UAB, where he redshirted this past season. Smith wanted to play quarterback in college but was recruited primarily as a safety—only Georgia Southern and some FCS schools wanted him at his preferred position, until Air Force made its offer.
Smith chose Troy Calhoun’s program and was part of an 11-2 season, the Falcons’ most wins in 21 years. But it was a long, hard first semester at school—basic Cadet training for 10 days in the wilderness before classes began, not playing on Saturdays, plus the rigorous academics. Smith took 18 credit hours, and that will jump up to more than 19 this semester.
But he hopes to have time Monday night to watch the College Football Playoff championship game. He wants to see Trevor Lawrence and Clemson battle LSU.
“It’s been pretty sweet watching him,” Smith said. “I root for him because he’s a Georgia boy and I like to see him succeed. It’s pretty impressive the things he’s done with his career.”
Maybe Monday night, Joe Burrow will get the better of Trevor Lawrence. Maybe not. Until then, only one quarterback can say they beat the sport’s golden boy.
Jake Smith, this is your claim to fame.