- Ben Hill (MS) 8-0 2015 Deep South Conference Champions
- Fitzgerald (9th) 6-0
- Fitzgerald (JV) 4-0-1
- Fitzgerald 13 -2
2015 Georgia Sports Writers Association All State Football Team
Offensive Player of the Year: J.D. King Fitzgerald, Jr.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tru'Self Cooper, Benedictine, Sr.
Coach of the Year: Chris Slade, Pace Academy
QB David Mills, Greater Atlanta Christian, Jr., 6-3, 188
RB J.D. King, Fitzgerald, Jr., 5-11, 205
RB Isaiah Foster, Chattooga, Jr., 5-10, 165
WR Trey Brown, Macon County, Soph., 6-3, 170
WR Trey Blount, Pace Academy, Jr., 6-3, 195
TE Charlie Woerner, Rabun County, Sr., 6-5, 220
OL Devin Cochran, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr., 6-7, 300
OL Sanders Creech, Benedictine, Sr., 6-0, 257
OL Jamaree Salyer, Pace Academy, Soph., 6-3, 310
OL Andrew Thomas, Pace Academy, Jr., 6-5, 305
OL Timothy Coleman, Pace Academy, Sr., 6-2, 290
K Sam Sloman, Pace Academy, Sr., 5-10, 190
ATH Wesley Kennedy, Benedictine, Jr., 5-10, 179
DL Matt Brown, Heard County, Sr., 6-3, 220
DL Tyvonte Maxwell, Brooks County, Sr, 5-10, 305
DL Randy Wade, Early County, Sr., 6-2, 225
DL Robby Allison, Dublin, Sr., 6-3, 220
LB Tru'Self Cooper, Benedictine, Sr., 6-1, 225
LB Jermany Hawkins, Screven County, Sr., 5-11, 215
LB Pippin Davis, Lamar County, Sr., 6-2, 205
LB Kentarius Felton, Macon County, Jr., 5-10, 190
DB Mick Assaf, Pace Academy, Sr., 6-1, 185
DB Chris Dublin, Model, Jr., 5-10, 175
DB Demarcus Addie, Manchester, Sr., 6-2, 185
DB William Poole, Hapeville Charter, Jr., 6-1, 175
P Brooks Buce, Greater Atlanta Christian, Jr., 6-1, 175
RET Aaron Bedgood, Fr., Bryan County, 5-9, 170
QB T.J. Bell, Jefferson County, Sr., 6-3, 185
RB Jared Daniels, Macon County, Jr., 5-9, 175
RB Jordan Argilagos, Wesleyan, Sr., 5-10, 185
WR Nathan Vick, Brooks County, Sr., 6-3, 175
WR Liam Sullivan, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr., 6-2, 190
*TE C.J. Afoa, Chattahoochee County, Sr., 6-2, 205
*TE Lecitus Smith, Fitzgerald, Jr., 6-4, 240
OL Jason Poe, Fitzgerald, Jr., 6-0, 215
OL Ford Higgins, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr., 6-2, 240
OL Grayson Hulett, McIntosh County Institute, Sr., 6-1, 230
OL Samuel Collins, Vidalia, Jr., 6-3, 285
OL Christian Meadows, Macon County, Soph., 6-3, 330
ATH Caleb O'Neal, Gordon Lee, Sr., 6-3, 210
K Raul Martinez, Fitzgerald, Sr., 6-3, 210
DL C.J. Brewer, Bowdon, Sr., 6-2, 260
DL Darrius Hampton, Fitzgerald, SR., 6-0, 250
DL Melton Brown, Jefferson County, Jr., 6-3, 250
DL Raymond Smith, Macon County, Sr., 6-4, 345
LB Roitavious Boatright, Jefferson County, Sr., 5-11, 195
LB Isaiah Carter, Chattahoochee County, Jr., 6-0, 200
LB Phillip Markwalter, Pace Academy, Sr., 6-2, 225
LB Drew Aspinwall, Wesleyan, Sr., 5-11, 185
DB Brandon Little, Jefferson County, Sr., 5-10, 150
DB Willie Ross, Fitzgerald, Jr., 6-0, 175
DB Jordan Mack, Wesleyan, Sr., 6-2, 182
DB Curt McDonald, Macon County, Jr., 5-10, 170
P Noah Cannon, Rabun County, Jr., 6-2, 192
RET Tyleek Collins, Benedictine, Soph.,, 5-9, 168
Honorable Mentions: QB K'Hari Lane, Macon County, Jr.; QB Demontay Jones, Brooks County, Sr.; QB Bailey Fisher, Rabun County, Soph.; RB Deon Jackson, Pace Academy, Jr.; WR Marquis Carter, Jefferson County, Sr.; WR/DB Tucker Cannon, Wesleyan, Sr.; WR Mackery White, Chattahoochee County, Sr.; WR Malcolm Cunningham, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr.; WR/DB Harrison Cook, Wesleyan, Jr.; DB/WR Berkley Boglin, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr.; LB Chris Harris, Benedictine, Jr.; DB Nick Hawkins, Chattooga, Jr.; K Jake Verity, Bremen, Sr.; K/P Jordan Weaver, Wesleyan, Sr.; ATH Shamel Johnson, Metter, Soph.; S Josh Reliford, Fitzgerald, Jr.
2015 AJC All State Team
Offensive player of the year: J.D. King, Fitzgerald
Defensive player of the year: Charlie Woerner, Rabun County
Coach of the year: Chris Slade, Pace Academy
QB — Davis Mills, Greater Atlanta Christian, 6-3, 190, Jr.
RB — Isaiah Foster, Chattooga, 5-10, 165, Jr.
RB — J.D. King, Fitzgerald, 5-10, 205, Jr.
WR — John Wesley Kennedy, Benedictine, 5-10, 170, Jr.
WR — Anascio Washington, Bacon County, 5-10, 160, Sr.
TE — Lecitus Smith, Fitzgerald, 6-4, 260, Jr.
OL — Devin Cochran, Greater Atlanta Christian, 6-7, 305, Sr.
OL — Samuel Collins, Vidalia, 6-3, 285, Jr.
OL — Sanders Creech, Benedictine, 6-0, 260, Sr.
OL — Jamaree Salyer, Pace Academy, 6-3, 310, So.
OL — Andrew Thomas, Pace Academy, 6-5, 305, Jr.
ATH — T.J. Bell, Jefferson County, 6-3, 180, Sr.
PK — Samuel Sloman, Pace Academy, 5-8, 175, Sr.
DL — C.J. Brewer, Bowdon, 6-3, 265, Sr.
DL — Matt Brown, Heard County, 6-3, 220, Sr.
DL — Tyvon Maxwell, Brooks County, 5-10, 305, Sr.
DL — Randy Wade, Early County, 6-2, 225, Sr.
LB — Tru’Self Cooper, Benedictine, 6-0, 230, Sr.
LB — Pippin Davis, Lamar County, 6-1, 205, Sr.
LB — Jermany Hawkins, Screven County, 5-11, 215, Sr.
LB — Landon Lawrence, Darlington, 6-3, 245, Sr.
DB — Chris Dublin, Model, 5-10, 176, Jr.
DB — Jordan Mack, Wesleyan, 6-3, 205, Sr.
DB — William Poole, Hapeville Charter, 6-1, 175, Jr.
DB — Charlie Woerner, Rabun County, 6-5, 238, Sr.
P — Brooks Buce, Greater Atlanta Christian, 6-1, 175, Jr.
DB Willie Ross, Fitzgerald, Jr.; DB Brandon Little, Jefferson County, Sr.; DL Melton Brown, Jefferson County, Jr.; DL Ford Higgins, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr.; DL/OL Robby Allison, Dublin, Sr.; PK Jake Verity, Bremen, Sr.; QB Demontay Jones, Brooks County, Sr.; QB James Graham, Fitzgerald, So.; QB K’Hari Lane, Macon County, Jr.; QB Mack Green, Hapeville Charter, Sr.; QB Banks Ramsey, Wesleyan, So.; QB Bailey Fisher, Rabun County, So.; QB Joseph Mancuso, Union County, Sr.; QB/LB Kyler Eldridge, Model, Jr.; RB Malik Prescott, Screven County, Sr.; RB Juan Tucker, Lamar County, Sr.; RB Jared Daniels, Macon County, Jr.; RB D.J. McBrayer, Bremen, Sr.; RB Jay Harris, Lovett, Sr.; RB Jordan Argilagos, Wesleyan, Sr.; RB Tijai Whatley, Darlington, So.; TE Robert Tucker, B.E.S.T. Academy, Sr.; TE Jake Walker, Darlington, Sr.; WR Trey Brown, Macon County, So.; WR/RET Jaquez Ezzard, Hapeville Charter, Sr.
King scores twice in American Juniors’ win
The Tifton Gazette
TIFTON — J.D. King scored twice and the junior American team beat the National squad, 38-14, Tuesday, in the Georgia Junior Sophomore Elite Classic at McEachern High in Powder Springs.
King, a Fitzgerald standout and the state's leading rusher in 2015, scored his touchdowns in a more unusual way. Both were receiving, something he had only done once in his 15 games during the season.
His scores broke open what had been a close contest through three quarters, according to game statistics.
Tied at 14 at halftime, the Americans got seven points in the 3rd and added a 49-yard field goal by Brooks Bruce (Greater Atlanta Christian) midway through the 4th. King then snagged a 33-yard pass from Bailey Hockman at 6:54, then grabbed one by Jack Dinges from 53 yards out at 2:24.
King finished as the leading receiver for either team, with 93 yards on 3 receptions.
He ran 9 times for 33 yards, with a long of 10 and added a kick return of 16 yards in the 1st period.
Northside (Warner Robins) wide receiver Tobias Oliver had 92 yards on the ground on two attempts and Caleb Huntley (Locust Grove) added 43 for the American team. Oliver also had 82 receiving yards.
Earlier in the day, the sophomore American team, featuring Fitzgerald's Kierron Smith, defeated the National team, 38-3.
Smith was responsible for one tackle in the game, but it was a big one, a sack of 13 yards.
The sack came on the next-to-last play of the 3rd quarter. On 2nd-and-4 at the 46, Smith knocked Fred Payton (Peachtree Ridge) back to the 33. The National squad would punt two plays later.
"Pace outguns Canes to gain state title, 42-21"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
The 2015 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane should be congratulated on completing a magical season. This team, comprised of mostly underclassman, outperformed the expectations of many as they stormed through the playoffs to the GHSA state championship game at the Georgia Dome against the Pace Academy Knights from Atlanta last Saturday afternoon. The Canes came up a little short in the title game as they lost 42-21 to the Knights. The game was highly competitive, and Fitzgerald’s fans never appeared to lose hope in their beloved Hurricane.
The atmosphere at the Georgia Dome was incredible. The entire town of Fitzgerald showed up for this game — or so it seemed. The Hurricane faithful swarmed the home side of the Dome and colored it purple on this day. As the team took the field, the boys appeared cool, calm and collected. Fitzgerald had twice as many players on their team compared with Pace Academy. The Canes also had twice as many fans. Entering the game, Pace Academy was 12-2. The Canes came into the game with a 13-1 record.
In any football game the most a fan can hope for is to see his or her team play their best game. The Canes truthfully appeared to do this. Unfortunately, the size and speed of Pace Academy was just too much on this day. Every time the Canes made an adjustment, Pace Academy seemed to have an answer. Pace Academy’s offense was nearly unstoppable. Their offense featured three quality running backs, a passing attack, a difficult screen game, and a quarterback who could scramble for big chunks of yardage. Fitzgerald did not force Pace to punt one time throughout the game. Pace fumbled two times and missed one field goal. Every other Knight possession ended with a touchdown.
Pace Academy won the coin toss and elected to defer the kick-off. This gave Fitzgerald the ball to start the game. The Canes ran three plays and had to punt. Pace marched down the field with their drive stalling at the Fitzgerald 23 yard line. The Knights send their kicker Samuel Sloman onto the field to attempt a 41 yard field goal. Sloman missed. After another Hurricane three and out, Pace Academy found the score board. The Knights scored on a 35 yard touchdown run from Deon Jackson. Jackson squirted through the Cane defense and was off to the races for a big play. Knights 7, Canes 0.
Fitzgerald responded with a powerful drive. The Canes pounded the ball with junior JD King, sophomore James Graham, sophomore Montrell Harris and junior Jalin Shavers. On this drive, Fitzgerald was able to keep the chains moving for five first downs. Graham completed the scoring drive with an eight yard run off of left end. He left two Pace Academy tacklers in his dust as he found the end zone. Canes 7, Knights 7.
Pace countered with another long scoring drive. The Knights had a massive offensive line, and they knew how to use these blockers to their advantage. Any time Pace needed two yards, they would call on these big boys to move the pile. And they always did. This particular drive from the Knights featured every aspect of their potent offense (passing, rushing, scrambling, and screen passes.) Gunnor Faulk, the Pace quarterback, proved to be a handful. Faulk was extremely elusive and avoided several sacks with his ability to scramble. This drive culminated with a one yard touchdown dive by Knight runner Realus George with 3:36 left in the second quarter. The drive went for 80 yards. Knights 14, Canes 7.
The Canes moved the ball on their final drive of the half. James Graham busted off a 31 yard run. The drive stalled at the Pace 45 yard line where Fitzgerald attempted to convert a fourth and four. JD King was stonewalled on the play. Pace would get the ball back on a turnover on downs.
Pace Academy took the ball with one minute left in the first half. They were not content entering half-time leading just 14-7. In a matter of five plays, the Knights found the end zone again. This time Gunnor Faulk threw a bullet pass to receiver Spencer Hemmingway for 16 yards. The pass sailed just over the outstretched arms of the Hurricane defender with 3 seconds to go in the half. Knights 21, Canes 7.
Pace Academy received the kick-off to start the second half. The Canes quickly forced a fumble giving Fitzgerald wonderful field position. The Hurricane offense went three and out. Fitzgerald then punted back to Pace.
Again, the Canes forced a fumble. This time Fitzgerald capitalized on the Pace Academy miscue. Fitzgerald drove down the field and punched in a score to draw closer to the Knights. JD King found a hole off of left tackle and powered into the end zone for the two yard gain. King, who entered the game leading the state in rushing yards with 2,416 yards, did his best to put the Canes on his back. This touchdown came at the 2:06 mark in the third quarter. Knights 21, Canes 14.
Sadly, the Hurricane defense was unable to stop Pace again. The Knights were able to use several running backs to wear down Fitzgerald’s defense. On a critical 3rd and 16, Pace Academy ran a trap play (where they pulled a tackle across the line of scrimmage to block) that opened a gaping hole. Deon Jackson scooted into the running lane and didn’t stop until he scored. This was one of the key plays of the game. The Jackson run came with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter. Knights 28, Canes 14.
Fitzgerald showed resilience by continuing to battle in this state championship game. With 8:00 left in the fourth quarter James Graham found Montrell Harris for a 35 yard bomb. The Georgia Dome erupted with elated Hurricane fans. Harris was able to outrun the stunned Pace Academy defense. Knights 28, Canes 21.
Pace went back to work and drove down the field again. With 5:18 remaining in the game, Deon Jackson scored again. This time he bounced in for a 5 yard touchdown run. Knights 35, Canes 21.
Fitzgerald kept battling. The vaunted Hurricane running attack stalled on this drive. After several running plays, the Hurricane turned over the ball on downs deep in their own territory.
At the 2:07 mark in the fourth, Pace Academy added one more touchdown. Realus George punched in a one yard touchdown to put this game on ice. Knights 42, Canes 21.
Fitzgerald truly had a magical season. JD King was all-world. King amassed 33 touchdowns this year. The Hurricane offense seemed to improve each week, and the future is bright for this squad. James Graham will undoubtedly work on his throwing mechanics throughout the offseason, and it should be exciting to see this group evolve next year.
Seniors Tyler Ball, Raul Martinez, Logan Sapp, Buck Lundy, Michael Wilson, and Darrius Hampton will be missed on the Hurricane defense. Coach Burkhart will have his hands full rebuilding the Hurricane defense. Burkhart will have his entire secondary returning for next season. He just needs to find some lineman to replace the graduating seniors.
Fitzgerald’s goal next season will be to advance deep into the GHSA playoffs. The Hurricane has some unfinished business from this championship game, and the town will be there to cheer on their beloved Canes again next year. With reclassification, private schools like GAC and Pace Academy are moving out of AA. Since those schools have defeated the Hurricane in the past two seasons, they won’t be missed by Hurricane fans. Please join me in thanking the boys, the coaches, and the entire community for this amazing season. It is one that I surely will never forget. Go Canes!
"Canes play first-class ball in Louisville, Dome bound"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
The 2015 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes have traveled throughout the state of Georgia throughout the playoffs this season. The Canes have been to Franklin, Savannah, Louisville, and will travel to Atlanta this week. Jefferson County High School is about 8 miles north of Louisville. The Warrior’s field felt very similar to that of Heard County. The home stands were built into the side of a hill. Fans for Fitzgerald had to walk down the hill to get to field level. Fitzgerald fans showed up by the thousands for this GHSA semi-final game against the Jefferson County Warriors. The drive time for Fitzgerald fans was two hour and forty minutes, but that didn’t seem to slow down the die-hards that showed up in Louisville to cheer on their beloved Purple Hurricanes. The stands were packed on both sides of the field.
The temperature at kick-off was 45 degrees, and it seemed to get colder as the night progressed. These chilly conditions didn’t seem to faze the Hurricane who came out firing on all cylinders. The Canes continued where they left off from the previous week when they shocked the state of Georgia by blowing out the defending state champion Benedictine Cadets, 54-28.
Fitzgerald put the first touchdown on the scoreboard with 7:07 left in the first quarter. Junior JD King stuffed in a one yard touchdown run on fourth and 1. The run was a culmination of the Hurricanes opening drive and gobbled up 5 minutes of clock. Fitzgerald had come to play. Canes 7, Warriors 0.
Jefferson County took their first drive down the field; however, they stalled at the 30 yard line. The Warriors went for a fourth down and were unable to convert the play. One constant for the Warriors throughout this game was injuries. They probably had ten guys go down throughout this game.
Into the second quarter, the Canes scored again. Marching down the field, Fitzgerald was able to get all the way to the two yard line. From there, sophomore James Graham took a quarterback keeper up the middle to extend the Hurricane lead. The touchdown came at the 11:04 mark of the second quarter. Senior Raul Martinez missed the extra point wide left. Canes 13, Warriors 0.
Fitzgerald struck again with 2:24 on the clock in the second quarter. James Graham threw a 43 yard bomb to sophomore Montrell Harris on a critical 3rd and 19. The pass was perfect and Harris was able to sprint to the end zone. Canes 20, Warriors 0.
With 1:23 left in the quarter, JD King ran in another touchdown from 1 yard out. The score came one play after King caught a 40 yard pass from James Graham. King came sprinting out of the backfield and was able to get behind the Warrior defense for the deep pass. Canes 27, Warriors 0.
Heading into half-time, the Jefferson County players, fans, and coaches looked stunned. They seemed to make a commitment at half-time to run the ball more.
After half-time, the Warriors came out and marched down the field to get on the scoreboard. The drive featured several long runs and one long pass. Jefferson County showed on this drive why they made it to the semifinal round of the GHSA playoffs. At the 9:56 mark, quarterback TJ Bell ran through the tackles for a 5 yard score. The run was a fitting end to a fine drive. Canes 27, Warriors 7.
A few moments later, James Graham put an arrow into these Warriors. On a 3rd and 12 from the 50 yard line, Graham improvised to zig and zag his way to a 50 yard touchdown scramble. Graham couldn’t locate an open receiver on a designed pass play, so he pulled the ball down and took off. This score came with 8:29 left in the third quarter. Canes 34, Warriors 7.
With 4:03 remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors found the score board again. This time TJ Bell found Jakota Turner for a 15 yard touchdown pass. Jefferson County was running the ball to set up the pass, and it seemed to work. Fitzgerald blocked the extra point. Canes 34, Warriors 13.
The Canes methodically marched down the field to eat up clock and to put this one out of reach. The drive ended when James Graham squirted into the endzone for another touchdown run with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald missed the extra point. Canes 40, Warriors 13.
With 3:00 left in the game, TJ Bell scored on a 2 yard run to give Jefferson County one more score. Unfortunately for Jefferson County, it was too little, too late. Canes 40, Warriors 20.
After the game, a jubilant Head Coach Jason Strickland spoke about his time at Fitzgerald. Coach Strickland said, “Four years ago when we came here, we were hoping to have a shot at this. And finally we get an opportunity. The goal isn’t to play in a state championship; the goal is to win it.”
Coach Strickland said that Jefferson County was a formidable opponent. Speaking about the Warriors he said, “We knew that they were going to be tough. I want to commend these guys (the Hurricanes.) They had a great week of practice. They are hungry. I think that they can taste it (the state championship.) We came up just a little bit short last year. These guys want it (the state championship.)”
Coach Strickland also praised the Fitzgerald faithful. He said, “This was an unbelievable crowd. These fans are excited. Four years ago when I got here, I came because of this tradition. This was my dream job. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I hate that it took this long (to get to the state championship game.)”
The Canes will face the Pace Academy Knights this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the AA GHSA state championship. This is the first time that the Canes have made it to the championship game since 2000, and the Canes are trying to win their first state championship since 1948. Fitzgerald is sure to be buzzing this week as the Purple Hurricanes prepare for a big road trip to Atlanta this weekend. One can only expect to hear the words “Go You Mighty Canes” across Ben Hill County as the area prepares for the state championship game Saturday.
"Canes shock Cadets, advance to semifinals"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Benedictine. The name alone sounds intimidating. When you add “2014 AA defending state champion” to their name, they seemed invincible. Well, Fitzgerald, last Friday night, our mighty Purple Hurricane proved that sometimes David slays Goliath.
The Benedictine Cadets play their home games at Savannah State University; which is a wonderful venue for football. The only problem with the venue is the parking. They were ill-equipped for the thousands of Fitzgerald fans that made their way to Savannah for this GHSA state-quarterfinal ballgame. At 6:45, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic as everyone sought to find parking for the game. After paying a $5 parking fee, we headed to the stadium.
Once we arrived, my family quickly realized that the Benedictine fans were very confident that their Cadets were going to handle the Mighty Canes. I overheard one kid say, “This game isn’t going to be close.” Another Cadet fan trash-talked my wife saying that they were going to blow us out. I wonder what those boys think about the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes now!
The game had an ominous start. On the second drive of the game for Fitzgerald, sophomore quarterback James Graham fired a pass into the hands of Benedictine defensive back Jonah Griffin. Griffin made a fantastic play on the ball to intercept the pass and proceeded to slice through the stunned Fitzgerald offense for a pick 6. The bewildered Fitzgerald fans gasped thinking, “Here we go.” The score came with 7:50 remaining in the first quarter. Head Cane Jason Strickland said that the interception was on him and the coaching staff, “They rolled their coverage and we didn’t see it.” Cadets 7, Canes 0.
At this juncture, I noticed the outstanding crowd. Both sides of the stadium were full (and this is a college Stadium!) The Fitzgerald faithful showed up on this Black Friday. Benedictine had a huge crowd as well. From what I understand, there were many fans tailgating as early as 4 p.m. on this Friday afternoon.
Sophomore Montrell Harris gave Fitzgerald some life with a 20 yard touchdown run after a dominating Fitzgerald drive. The score came with 3:12 left in the first quarter. Harris’ run featured a cut-back which left the Cadet defender in his dust. Canes 7, Cadets 7.
The defending state champion Benedictine Cadets went back to work on the ensuing drive. Using a clever attack which featured misdirection and deception, the Cadets marched down the field as they gashed the Fitzgerald defense with runs of 19, 5, 5, 15, 10 and 10 yards. The drive came to a end when Cadet John Williams punched in a 2 yard touchdown run. Williams’ score came with 11:12 to go in the second quarter. Cadets 14, Canes 7.
Fitzgerald responded with a field goal. With 6:57 remaining in the second quarter senior Raul Martinez drilled a 32 yard field goal. Besides kicking several touchbacks in this pivotal match-up, Martinez nailed two field goals in this GHSA quarterfinal game. Coach Strickland said that Raul Martinez contributed to the victory with his kick-offs, “They are so dangerous with their returners. Raul kicked all but two into the end zone.” 14, Canes 10.
At the 6:05 mark, the Cadets struck again. This time sophomore stud Tyleek Collins took a misdirection play for 56 yards. The Benedictine offense was very confusing to defend. As the Cadets completed this three play touchdown scoring drive, I wondered, “Are they pulling away? Will the Canes stand up and fight back?” Cadets 21, Canes 10.
One of the plays of the game came with 3:12 to go in the second quarter. The Canes were backed up with a 3rd-and-long. Sophomore James Graham executed a play action pass that worked perfectly. Graham hit Montrell Harris in stride on a perfectly thrown bomb. Harris made the catch and then outran his defender to pull the Canes a bit closer. Cadets 21, Canes 17.
With only 13 seconds left, Raul Martinez drilled another field goal. This time his kick was from 37 yards out. The ball sailed through the pipes for the Hurricane score. Cadets 21, Canes 20.
The game stayed at the score of 21 to 20 headed into half. Whatever the coaching staff said to the Mighty Canes at half-time, I want some of that. The Canes came out on fire in the second half and truly appeared to believe that they would win this game.
Benedictine received the kick-off after half-time. Unfortunately for them, they coughed up the ball and gave the Canes possession on the 20 yard line. The Canes quickly drove down and scored a touchdown to take the lead. Junior JD King punched in a 4 yard touchdown run with 9:50 left in the third quarter. The Canes attempted a two point conversion and were unsuccessful. Canes 26, Cadets 21.
Fitzgerald’s defense started standing up and playing in the second half. The Hurricane defense stuffed Benedictine and forced a punt with 8:31 remaining in the third quarter. As the punt left the Cadet kickers foot I found myself yelling, “Shank you very much!!!” After the shanked punt, the Canes had the ball on the Benedictine 34 yard line.
Coach Strickland decided to feed all-state running back JD King the ball. In a tough game like this, you give the ball to your best players and let them win the game. King didn’t disappoint. With 8:20 left in the third quarter, King took a hand-off and ran off right guard for a 13 yard touchdown. The Fitzgerald coaches were all jumping and screaming. Fitzgerald’s sizable crowd was jacked up! Meanwhile, the Benedictine fans looked shocked. The kid who said that this would be a blowout couldn’t believe his eyes. Canes 33, Cadets 21.
Benedictine responded. At the 7:53 mark, Travis Blackshear took a hand-off and ran off right tackle for a 61 yard touchdown. This would be the only big play for the Cadets in the second half. Coach Strickland and his staff kept clapping and encouraging; even after this huge play. Canes 33, Cadets 28.
With 4:32 to go in the third quarter, James Graham converted a two yard dive play through the middle of the Cadet defense for another touchdown. This game was turning into a rout and was all Fitzgerald. Canes 40, Cadets 28.
Graham was off to the races again with 11:13 left in the game. He completed a 40 yard gallop for another Fitzgerald touchdown. Benedictine appeared to be tired of tackling the Mighty Canes!! Cadet fans started filing out of the packed Savannah State University Stadium. They hadn’t seen a game like this all season. In the three years that Benedictine has played at this Stadium, they had only lost one home game. Now they’ve lost two. Canes 47, Cadets 28.
JD King punched in one more touchdown with 6:24 left in the game. He completed a 30 yard scamper which featured him running over the Cadet defense. They won’t soon forget this Hurricane team. Canes 54, Cadets 28.
The game ended with the Canes on top by 26 points. In my opinion, it was the best performance of the season for the Canes. Fitzgerald dominated on offense, defense, and special teams. In the process, the Canes stunned the Cadets, their fans, and the state of Georgia. Heading into the contest, the Canes were 11 point underdogs.
After the game, an elated Head Coach Jason Strickland praised his team and coaching staff. He said, “We really challenged the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football all week. We knew that was where we lost the game the last time we played them. They embarrassed us. I tell you what, Coach Shoultz, Coach Dorsett, and Coach Wicker did a fantastic job all week, and it showed up tonight.”
Coach Strickland said that they used film to motivate them, “One of the things that we kept showing was the film from last week when Benedictine played Lovett. Lovett kept grinding and almost won. We wanted our kids to believe that somehow we could win, and they did. We beat a really good football team. We had to really search for some things to believe that we could beat this group.”
Regarding half-time, Coach said, “It was very calm. We had misaligned on defense a couple of times (in the first half), and they burned us on that. We lined up better in the second half and only gave up one touchdown. We found an offensive scheme on the edge that was giving them some problems. JD King had a heck of a night.”
When asked about this week’s GHSA semi-final, coach said, “We will have to get on those yellow dogs and make a trip. I’m not ready to stop practicing with those seniors. We had a heck of a crowd and they were rowdy all night. God Bless the Purple Hurricanes.”
Friday night the Canes will travel to Louisville to play the Jefferson County Warriors in what they refer to as the Big Teepee. All that is on the line is a trip to the Georgia Dome to play in the AA state championship. We need a huge crowd to support our Mighty Canes. The Warriors will be a very difficult match-up, and we will need a great performance to beat them. I hope to see you all at the game. Go Canes!!
"Canes get job done at Heard Co. to play third round"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
There were two major stories heading into last Friday night’s game against the Heard County Braves in the second round of the GHSA AA playoffs. The first major story was the distance between Fitzgerald High School and Heard County High School. Depending on the route, the trip is right around 200 miles and takes 3.5 hours. By bus, the trip was four hours. In preparation for the trip, the Hurricane football team left Fitzgerald High School at 12 noon.
The second major story heading into the ballgame was the fact that we previously played Heard County in our second game of the season. That game ended with the Canes defeating the Braves by the score of 29-7. Coach Paul Stokes told me earlier in the week that, “It is very, very difficult to beat a team twice.” I had wished him good luck with the game, and he said, “We will need it.” Why is it so difficult to defeat the same team twice during a season? Both teams have an opportunity to make adjustments from the first game. Both coaching staffs have videotape of their team playing the opponent and can use the tape for specific coaching. Lastly, high school football players can be impacted by emotion and motivation. A good motivator is being beaten by a team earlier in the season.
If you have never been to Franklin and watched a football game at Heard County High School, I highly recommend it. The football stadium is built into the side of a mountain. I parked in the high school parking lot and followed the lights to the football complex. The home stands are carved into the side of the mountain. To get to the visitor stands, you walk down a steep slope that easily descends 50 feet to field level. The entire complex was well kept and very comfortable. Adding to the effect of the mountain atmosphere, there was a dense fog that seemed to linger about 70 feet above the field level. The night was cool. The temperature was right at 50 degrees; however, there was no wind to make it feel colder.
Considering all of that (the venue, the distance we traveled, and the fact that it was a re-match), the Canes can be really happy to get out of this game with a win. My son Jace and I arrived to the field right at kick-off. Hurricane senior kicker Raul Martinez booted the opening kickoff into the end zone for a touchback. The playmaker for the Braves was sophomore quarterback Emory Jones. Jones was sadly injured on the first play of the game from scrimmage. Jones ran a three yard quarterback keeper on the play and suffered a right leg injury. I heard conflicting reports that said that he broke his leg and tore his ACL. Either way, he was out for the rest of the game.
Four plays later, back-up quarterback Alijah Huzzle fumbled the snap and gave the Canes the ball on the Heard County 45 yard line. Huzzle, a freshman, came on strong throughout the game; however, it was apparent that he was a little nervous in his first playoff game. The Canes came out firing on all cylinders. Sophomore quarterback James Graham slung a 30 yard pass to sophomore Montrell Harris on the Canes’ first play of the game. All-state fullback JD King took a sweep right for a 15 yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. The play cane with 9:20 left in the first quarter. Canes 7, Braves 0.
After forcing a three and out, the Canes went back to work. The Canes were the benefactor of a bad Heard County punt. Thanks to the partially blocked punt, the Canes started their second drive on the Brave 33 yard line. With 4:10 remaining in the first quarter, the Canes punched in their second touchdown of the evening. This time, Graham scored on a quarterback keeper from 15 yards out. At this point in the contest, the game was all Fitzgerald. Canes 14, Braves 0.
Fitzgerald added one more score in the half. On a drive that featured junior Josh Reliford as the quarterback, the Canes marched down the field. Reliford had to come into the game because James Graham suffered a separated shoulder during the second quarter of the game. With 6:00 minutes to go in the second quarter, junior Jalin Shavers converted a 17 yard end around. Shavers got to the edge and sped away from the would-be Brave tacklers. Shavers showed some real speed on the play. Canes 21, Braves 0.
One other notable play from the second half came from junior Antonio Perry. With 5:42 Perry broke up a pass from Huzzle and tipped the ball to himself for the interception. This was the first of three Hurricane picks throughout the contest. At half-time, the score remained 21-0 Fitzgerald.
There was not much to report on in the second half. The Canes were very limited in their offensive approach because Graham was nursing a sore shoulder. Since Fitzgerald had the large lead, the plan was to run the clock and avoid further injury. The plan worked perfectly Heard County found the scoreboard with 4:00 minutes left in the third quarter. Austin Barron ran untouched for a 6 yard touchdown to get the Braves on the scoreboard. Barron, the son of the Heard County head coach, worked his tail off all night. It was good to see the hard work rewarded with a touchdown. Canes 21, Braves 7.
With 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Raul Martinez drilled a 39 yard field goal. The kick was perfect all the way. Canes 24, Braves 7.
The game ended with the Canes holding onto the same 24-7 lead. It wasn’t always pretty, but our 2015 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes have found a way to advance to the quarterfinals of the GHSA playoffs for the second consecutive season.
After the game, Head Fitzgerald Coach Jason Strickland said that, “We got up and were able to survive. Tip your hat to those guys. We didn’t really play well for three quarters on the offensive side of the football. We get to play one more week and practice one more week with our seniors. Coach Burkhart and his staff had a very good plan. When we get back to work on Monday, we have got to instill in those kids that we have to finish the game. We have to put the nail in the coffin when we get up.”
Coach Strickland updated the status of James Graham after the game. He said that, “James got hurt and separated his should there. That limited some of the things that we wanted to do in the run game. He praised his back-up quarterback. He said, “I tip my hat to Josh Reliford. He came in and got us a touchdown.”
The task this week will be daunting. The Canes will travel to Savannah this Friday to take on the undefeated, defending state champion Benedictine Cadets. The Cadets knocked the Canes out of the playoffs in 2013. I fully expect our Canes to do their best to repay the favor this season. I hope to see you all in Savannah Friday night. We brought a great crowd to Heard County; let’s do the same against Benedictine. Go Canes!
2015 1-AA ALL REGION
Player of the year: QB Damonte Jones, Brooks County, Sr.
Offensive player of year: RB J.D. King, Fitzgerald, Jr.
Defensive player of year: DT Tyvon Maxwell, Brooks County, Sr.
Special teams player of year: RET Calvin Brown, Early County, Sr.
Coach of the year: Maurice Freeman, Brooks County
QB - James Graham, Fitzgerald, So.
QB - Alex Fudge, Seminole County, Sr.
RB - Johnathan White, Brooks County, So.
RB - Devyn Harris, Berrien, Jr.
RB - Tori Sapp, Thomasville, Jr.
FB - Gerald Tolbert, Early County, Sr.
FB - Isaac Tillman, Berrien, Sr.
TE - Lecitus Smith, Fitzgerald, Jr.
TE - Javoris Williams, Pelham, Fr.
WR - Nathan Vick, Brooks County, Sr.
WR - Cassius Allen, Pelham, Jr.
WR - Jarred Cody, Brooks County, Sr.
WR - Javian Williams, Early County, Sr.
C - Thomas Rayburn, Thomasville, Jr.
C - Austin Lasseter, Berrien, So.
G - Jason Poe, Fitzgerald, Jr.
G - Darrius Sampson, Pelham, Sr.
G - Gabe Davis, Berrien, Sr.
G - Austin White, Brooks County, Sr.
T - Chris Williams, Brooks County, Sr.
T - Mason Hodge, Thomasville, Sr.
T - Evan Sumner, Berrien, Sr.
T - Hunter Womble, Seminole County, Jr.
P - Ransom Trueman, Berrien, Jr.
DE - Gabriel Williams, Pelham, Sr.
DE - Randy Wade, Early County, Sr.
DE - Darrius Hampton, Fitzgerald, Sr.
DE - Chandler Poore, Brooks County, Sr.
DL - Anthony Ransey, Fitzgerald, Jr.
DL - Logan Sapp, Fitzgerald, Sr.
DL - Jeffrey Akins, Seminole County, Sr.
DL - Cameron Jones, Pelham, So.
NG - Keshawn Prince, Berrien, Jr.
NG - Avery Alexander, Early County, Jr.
ILB - Chris James, Early County, Sr.
ILB - James Silas, Brooks County, Sr.
ILB - Gavin Hieres, Thomasville, Sr.
OLB - DeAnthony Spencer, Brooks County, Sr.
OLB - Brent Moore, Seminole County, Sr.
OLB - Clifford Russell, Pelham, Sr.
S - Josh Reliford, Fitzgerald, Jr.
S - James Fackler, Pelham, Sr.
S - Durrell Summerset, Early County, Sr.
CB - Willie Ross, Fitzgerald, Jr.
CB - Caleb Roland, Berrien, Sr.
CB - Anferne King, Seminole County, Sr.
CB - Michael Raiford, Brooks County, Sr.
K - Raul Martinez, Fitzgerald, Sr.
"Canes end Eagles' season"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
With this being my second year at Fitzgerald High School, I have been blessed with the opportunity to cover two teams that have advanced into the GHSA state playoffs. The 2015 version of the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane is young, fast, and poised to make some noise in the playoffs. This season’s team lacks experience; however, I firmly believe that the sky is the limit for this crew. Also, I am excited to watch these kids develop because we have a plethora of young talent on this football team.
Last Friday night was cold. I came to the game prepared for cool; however, by halftime, I realized that I would need a few more layers of clothing. It was cold. Thankfully I had a few jackets in my car. It was a typical playoff type of atmosphere at Jaycee Stadium. The home side of the stadium was full throughout the game. The Putnam County Eagles brought hundreds of spectators and seemed to have a very loyal fan base.
The Eagles’ fans were treated to a tremendous start for Putnam County. On the first offensive play of the game from scrimmage, Eagle running back Tyrone Davis took a sweep left for a 74 yard touchdown. Davis was untouched on the play and seemed to run away from Hurricane defenders. This opening score came with 11:41 on the clock for the first quarter.
The Eagles went for and converted a two-point play to give themselves an 8-0 lead. They were jacked up (players, fans, and coaches!) At this point I thought to myself, “This could be a long night.” Thankfully, the Canes were able to steady themselves and score some points. Eagles 8, Canes 0.
With 9:15 to go in the first quarter, the Canes found the scoreboard. Junior running back JD King went off right tackle for 24 yards. King wove a thing of beauty through the Putnam County defense on his way to the endzone. All night, King made guys miss as he amassed 147 yards on the ground. Eagles 8, Canes 7.
With 3 seconds left in the first quarter, Fitzgerald had its next scoring opportunity. Senior Raul Martinez attempted a 27 yard field goal. The kick had plenty of leg but was missed wide left. Eagles 8, Canes 7.
The Hurricanes had another opportunity to score with 11:17 remaining in the second half. On 3rd and 18, sophomore quarterback James Graham found JD King on a well–executed curl pattern. With 11:17 left in the second quarter, the Canes took the lead. They would not trail again in this contest. King’s touchdown catch came on a critical third down after a costly holding penalty. Canes 14, Eagles 8.
With 9:02 Raul Martinez drilled a 30 yard field goal to extend the Cane lead. Canes 17, Eagles 8.
The Canes managed to punch in two more scores before half-time. With 5:27 junior Jalin Shavers ran in a 9 yard touchdown. Shavers had several explosive plays in this game. Canes 24, Eagles 8.
Junior Willie Ross made one of the most impressive plays of the game with 1:39 left in the second quarter. Ross, a cornerback, made an over the shoulder interception. After the pick, Ross did his best to try to run it all the way back for 6.
At the 20 second mark of the second quarter, sophomore James Graham made a special 31 yard run to extend the Hurricane lead. Graham flashed his speed as he left the Eagle defenders in his dust. Martinez missed the extra point. Canes 30, Eagles 8.
Fitzgerald continued thumping the Putnam County Eagles after half time. This Eagle defense had no answer for the Cane rushing attack. Making matters worse for the Eagles, James Graham had a great night throwing the ball. Graham completed 7 passes for 128 yards. He found junior Lecitus Smith twice for 78 yards. After a Smith catch moved the Canes to the 5 yard line, JD King added another touchdown at the 9:38 mark in the third quarter. King ran the ball 5 yards up the gut of the Eagle defense for this score. Canes 37, Eagles 8.
With 2:42 left in the third quarter, Willie Ross officially earned the nick name “ball hawk.” Ross picked off his third interception of the night and returned the interception all the way to the Eagle 5 yard line. After a penalty, the Canes had the ball at the Putnam County 3. Freshman Damien Devine took the next hand-off three yards to extend the Hurricane lead. The rout was on. Canes 44, Eagles 8.
Fitzgerald would add one more touchdown on this chilly night in the fourth quarter. Damien Devine, with 9:44 remaining, ran the ball 4 yards for the final Hurricane score. Sophomore Colby Bell came into the game and drilled the extra point. Canes 51, Eagles 8.
Putnam County did get on the scoreboard one more time. Late in the fourth quarter (3:31 left) Trevon Ellison broke several tackles on his way to a 48 yard touchdown run. Ellison showed grit and determination on the play. He then stepped up and kicked the extra point. Canes 51, Eagles 15.
That was how it ended. The Cane defense looked dominant on this night. Willie Ross made three incredible interceptions. Fitzgerald’s offense looked very good as they showcased a strong rushing and passing attack. Hopefully, the Canes can continue to move the ball with the effectiveness they showed in the first round of the playoffs.
After the game, a very happy Head Coach Jason Strickland had a few comments about his team’s performance. He said that the team did not have a great practice on Tuesday. He said, “We really made a commitment on Wednesday and really came back. Today, everything went about as perfect as we could have it.”
Regarding his defense, he said, “We missed a lot on the first play and had a bad angle on the toss once he got outside. We knew that they were fast. It was one of those things that we couldn’t simulate with the scout team. We played lights out the rest of the game.”
Coach Strickland also praised his offense. He said, “Those kids played great but Coach Wicker and Coach Dorsett had a plan for this game that worked. I was nervous with some of the things that we were doing, but those two coaches promised me that we would be okay. And for the most part, we were.”
Strickland mentioned his passing offense. He said, “We saw Jalin (Shavers) on a pass that he was wide open. He caught the one that we threw him (in the second half.) Lecitus (Smith) had a big night catching the ball. It (our passing offense) is starting to develop.” When asked about penalties, Coach Strickland said, “We are not happy about that. We are going to work on (the penalties) and clean it up.”
Coach Strickland said that the future is bright with Damien Devine, Talvin Craddock and Ethan Gordon. He said, “Those are three speedy guys. They are hungry and they want reps. I’m excited about the future.”
Finally, Coach Strickland assessed the next Cane opponent. Coach said, “When we faced them, they were still trying to find an offensive identity. They are now looking like the Heard County that we expect. Henry Jones (quarterback who has offer from Mississippi State) is running a lot of bootleg plays. It will be a dynamic atmosphere up there. They are going to have a packed house. It is a beautiful venue for football.”
This Friday, the Canes will have to be road warriors. The Hurricane bandwagon will take this show to Franklin, Ga. for a rematch against Heard County. On August 29, the Canes defeated the Braves 29-7 at Mercer University in Macon. One of the reasons the Canes played Heard County in Macon was because of the distance between the schools. The trip is approximately 3 ½ hours. I will be making that long drive this Friday, and I hope to see you up there. Go Canes!!
"Canes close fine season with Seminole defeat, 45-0"
Written by MIke Heitzman
The Herald Leader
The last regular season game presents a bittersweet feeling. I am super excited about the 2015 GHSA state playoffs; however, knowing that the season can end any moment is almost depressing. I’ve enjoyed this season tremendously and hope that the Canes can muster out a few more victories.
My son and I arrived at Jaycee Stadium early enough to get ourselves some fries and a cheeseburger. We were able to share the experience of Purple Hurricane football with some family members from Florida who absolutely loved it. If you have not tried the Jaycee Stadium cheeseburgers, let me personally tell you that they are the best in region 1AA. I’ve had hockey puck tasting burgers at some of our venues — not Jaycee Stadium.
I ran into last season’s stud wingback Taeylon Gaulden as I was walking into Jaycee Stadium and asked him if he missed Friday night football. His response was, “More than you know.” For this year’s seniors, the only guarantee is Friday night. In the playoffs, it is win or go home.
The Seminole County Indians rolled into Fitzgerald with a record of 3-6. Last season, the Indians moved up a classification, and they are still adjusting to the competition in region 1AA. The Indians were 1-4 in region play coming into the game.
The first quarter of this game didn’t present much to report on. Both teams started very slowly. The two plays in the quarter that stood out to me were a field goal and an interception. The interception came from junior Willie Ross. Ross out jumped the Indian receiver and seemed to muscle the pigskin away from the would-be receiver. The other notable play in the first quarter came with 7:34 remaining on the clock. Senior Raul Martinez drilled a 32 yard field goal to open the scoring for the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane. Canes 3, Indians 0.
Fitzgerald’s Head Coach Jason Strickland characterized the start against Seminole County very accurately. He said that, “We didn’t start real crisp on offense, but our defense bounced back real well.
Our guys settled down real well. (It was a very) big win tonight. All-state running back JD King took over the second quarter of this ballgame. At the 10:37 mark in the second quarter, King carried the ball 25 yards on his way into the end zone for the first Hurricane touchdown of the evening. King made several Indians miss on this elusive run. The run seamed to calm the Canes’ nerves. Canes 10, Indians 0.
With 2:33 to go in the second quarter, King struck again. This time King took the rock 17 yards off right tackle for another score. King plowed through several tacklers as he stormed into the end zone. The Canes had taken control of the game. Canes 17, Indians 0.
Fitzgerald really sent an arrow through the hearts of the Indians with their last scoring drive of the half. The Canes added one more score on a deep pass from sophomore quarterback James Graham. With 58 seconds showing in the half, Graham passed the ball to sophomore Montrell Harris. The ball hit Harris in stride, and he proceeded to convert the play into another Cane touchdown. The play went for 40 yards. Canes 24, Indians 0.
After a very entertaining half-time performance, both teams got back to work. JD King kept his magical performance going with another touchdown. As 9:21 read on the clock in the third quarter, King powered his way through the Indian defense for his third touchdown of the evening. King’s run went for 7 yards and seemed to deflate the opponent. Canes 31, Indians 0.
The final two scores were added by a pair of freshman wingbacks who will be making plays for the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane over the course of the next three years. With 6:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, freshman Ethan Gordon steam rolled his way into the end zone for another Cane rushing touchdown. Canes 42, Indians 0.
Freshman Damien Devine scored his first varsity touchdown with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter to ice this game. Devine and Gordon will be a tandem for years to come. On this play, Devine took the hand-off and powered through the Indian defense for an 8 yard run. He appeared to want it more than the tired Indian defense. Canes 45, Indians 0.
The game ended with the final score of Canes 45, Indians 0. Fitzgerald clearly used this game as a warm-up for the playoffs. The Canes really tried to get the passing game going. I believe that we will continue to see the passing game develop as this group attempts to advance through the playoffs. James Graham and company will try to find a way to get the ball down the field.
After the game, Head Coach Jason Strickland talked about the importance of having defensive coordinator Neil Burkhart back on the sidelines. Burkhart had to miss last week’s game due to a family emergency. Strickland said, “You get familiarity on the sideline with things like signals and adjustments. Certainly, he has done a fantastic job for us (four years) and he will be around with us for a long time. That situation last week was a bear to deal with.” Strickland also shouted out position coach Andy Dent who had to miss the game due to surgery. Let’s all hope for a speedy recovery for Coach Dent.
Speaking about his seniors, Strickland said “(It was an) emotional night ending the regular season with Buck Lundy, Logan Sapp, Darrius Hampton, and on down the line. I’m not ready to stop practice with those guys. Hopefully, we can ride this thing out for a few more weeks.”
This week we start our second season; the GHSA playoffs. We are guaranteed one home playoff game this Friday night against Putnam County. Putnam ended the season in third place in region 4AA behind Macon County and Lamar County. The Putnam County Eagles are 7-3. The only common opponent that we both have is Macon County. The Eagles were defeated by Macon County 21-18. Our Canes outscored Macon County 57- 32 early in the 2015 season.
When asked about the Putnam County Eagles, Coach Strickland said, “They are going to be athletic. We are going to have our table full to prepare for those guys. We will have to play much better next week to beat those guys.”
I’m hoping for a few more weeks of football. I will see you all this Friday night at Jaycee Stadium for an exciting postseason match-up against Putnam County.
"Canes outlast Rebels"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Driving to Nashville, I had a moment to contemplate the regional match-up against Berrien County that I was about to watch. The Berrien County Rebels made the playoffs last year and have a difficult offense to defend. The offense is based on the quarterback’s ability to make decisions and use options. On most plays the quarterback can keep it, hand it off, or pitch it to a different running back.
Heading into this game, the Rebels were 2-6; however, their performance Friday night was superb. In a shoot-out of a ball game, the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes survived a scare to defeat the rebels 49-42. The outcome of this game was in question until the last minute, and at one point, I thought to myself, “We could lose this game .The start of the game was all Fitzgerald. Berrien received the opening kick-off and fumbled on the second play of their drive. Wasting no time, sophomore Montrell Harris took the first Fitzgerald play to the house. Harris ran a jet sweep off the right tackle for 32 yards. On the play, Harris was basically untouched. The score came with 10:29 remaining in the first quarter. Canes 7, Rebels 0.
Berrien stormed back with a scoring drive of their own. This drive was fueled with a 65 yard rumble from running back Devyne Lindsey. Lindsey ran right through the interior of his offensive line and right through the Hurricane defense. With 8:29 left in the first quarter, Isaac Tillman punched in the football for a two yard touchdown for the Rebels. The extra point was blocked. Canes 7, Rebels 6.
The good news for the Canes on this night was that Berrien County could not stop our offense. The Canes were able to move the ball back down the field on the next Fitzgerald possession. With 5:34 on the clock for the first quarter, sophomore quarterback James Graham threw a 20-yard dart to an open Lecitus Smith for a touchdown. Smith, a junior, is a huge tight end for the Canes. He figures to be an important part of the passing offense as the Canes prepare for the GHSA playoffs. Canes 14, Rebels 6.
Fitzgerald scored again on their next possession. At the 2:20 mark, the Canes handed the ball off to Montrell Harris on a jet sweep right. Harris did the rest. The young man took the ball 74 yards on this impressive one play drive. Harris wasn’t touched on the run meaning that the Canes’ blocking was impeccable. Canes 21, Rebels 6
After this run, I leaned over to my Dad and said, “It looks like this one is going to be a blow-out.” I was sure wrong. With 11:49 showing on the clock in the second quarter, Rebel quarterback Blake Guthrie found Tyler Spells for a well-executed slant pass. The Fitzgerald defender was a step behind Spells who ran the ball 43 yards for a long touchdown. Canes 21, Rebels 13.
At the 4:30 mark in the second quarter, the Rebel offense struck again. This time Devyne Lindsey, who led this pesky Berrien County squad with 189 rushing yards, ran the ball in from 4 yards out. Lindsey was running through the tackles with success on just about every play. The Rebels converted a two-point play to tie the game. Canes 21, Rebels 21.
Fitzgerald was able to re-capture the lead before half-time. Junior JD King took a sweep left 75 yards for an important score. King made a clever cutback on the play to get into the end zone. The play came with 4:10 remaining in the second quarter. This was the first of four touchdowns on the night for JD King. Canes 28, Rebels 21.
After half-time, the Cane offense resumed where it had left off. James Graham got into the action with a few runs on this drive. Graham, who didn’t play last week, is rehabbing an injured Achilles tendon. Head Coach Jason Strickland said this about the performance of Graham, “At half-time, we told him that we wanted to run the ball a few times to test his ankle. He is still not where he wants to be, but he is good enough to be out there on Friday nights.”
JD King carved his way through the Berrien County defense with 8:49 left in the third quarter for another Hurricane touchdown. The play was good for 14 yards and a touchdown. Canes 35, Rebels 21.
Devyne Lindsey added a 16 yard touchdown run off right guard at the 5:12 mark. Lindsey was a handful all night for the Canes. Canes 35, Rebels 28.
King scored again with 2:53 to go in the third quarter on a 6 yard power run up the middle. In this game, JD King showed why he was named to the all-state list last year as a sophomore. The Rebels couldn’t slow him down. Canes 42, Rebels 28.
On the next Rebel drive Isaac Tillman made it look too easy against the Hurricane defense. Tillman ran right through the middle of the line of scrimmage and never slowed down. Tillman carried the ball 45 yards for the Berrien County score at the 1:24 mark in the third quarter. Berrien County missed the extra point. Canes 42, Rebels 34After the game, Coach Strickland was asked about the Rebel offense. His complementary words were, “If they don’t turn the ball over, they will put some points on the board.” The Rebels sure did score a lot of points against the Purple Hurricane on this night.
JD King scored his fourth touchdown of the night with 9:24 left in the game. King punched the ball in from 5 yards out and the game officially achieved barn-burner status. Canes 49, Rebels 34.
The Rebels added one final score to draw within one touchdown. Blake Guthrie snuck the ball into the end zone for a 1 yard touchdown. Berrien converted another two-point play to make it a one score game. This particular drive ate a bunch of time off the clock. Now only 2:49 was left in this high scoring affair. Canes 49, Rebels 42.
Since there was so little time left, the Rebels attempted an onside kick which was perfectly fielded by Callen Ray. After the recovery, the Canes were able to run the remaining time off of the clock as they extended their record to 8-1 on the season. The final score in this marathon was 49-42 in favor of Fitzgerald.
After the game Coach Strickland said, “Congratulations to Coach Pilcher and Berrien. They did a great job. They made blocking adjustments on every series to what we were trying to do up front. It was not a very good night for us on the defensive side of the football. Coach also said that, “We had some circumstances today that rattled some of our guys. We have got to be able to push past that and learn to deal with adversity. One positive is that we fought through it and found a way to win. That was not the performance that we wanted to have heading into the playoffs.”
The Canes have one more tune-up this Friday night against Seminole County at Jaycee Stadium. Seminole appears to have an opportunity to qualify for the GHSA playoffs, so it should be a good game. I’m looking forward to some home cooking. We have the best concession stand in 1AA. Go Canes!
"Canes back on track with Pelham win"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Making the ninety minute drive to Pelham last Friday night, I had plenty of time to consider this Region 1AA match-up. Pelham has a new coach and a seemingly new identity. This season the Hornets have already knocked off perennial contender Thomasville, so I knew that the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane would have their hands full with the Pelham Hornets. The Canes had suffered their only loss of the season the week before to front-runner Brooks County. The burning question was; how would Fitzgerald respond?
Intensifying the matter, quarterback James Graham has been nursing a sore Achilles tendon. The game plan for the Pelham game was to start back-up quarterback Josh Reliford, and only use Graham if absolutely necessary. How would Reliford perform in his first varsity start at quarterback? Josh has been a mainstay in the defensive secondary; however, I have only seen him at quarterback in emergencies.
This season, I’ve wondered who would get the nod at quarterback if Graham wasn’t available; junior Josh Reliford or sophomore Matthew Howell. Against Pelham it was Reliford.
The game started slow. Both teams struggled to move the ball. On the Canes opening drive, Reliford fired a pass that was tipped and intercepted. I wondered if this was a sign of things to come or just a little bad luck. The Fitzgerald faithful who made the trip alongside me to Pelham appeared to be pondering the same thing.
The scoring in this one started with a defensive play made by the Hurricanes. Junior Antonio Perry intercepted a Pelham pass from James Fackler and took the return 60 yards to the house. The pick came with 2:37 and seemed to calm the Canes. Perry, a student of mine, had two interceptions during this ballgame and really stood out on the Hurricane defense. Canes 7, Hornets 0.
A few minutes later, the Canes went back to work and back in business. Junior JD King busted off several highlight reel runs and was significantly faster than the Hornet defenders. On this drive, King took a run 60 plus yards deep into the red zone. A play later, King ran the ball 5 yards off of left tackle to cap off the scoring drive. The run came as time expired in the first quarter. It felt as though Fitzgerald was in control. Canes 14, Hornets 0.
The Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane added one more score in the second quarter. With 4:11 remaining in the half, King ran right up the gut (middle of the line of scrimmage) for a 19 yard touchdown. On the play, King pounded through the line of scrimmage and then showed a burst of speed as he zipped through the Hornet secondary. The Canes were out to a three-score lead. Canes 21, Hornets 0.
At half-time, the score remained 21-0 in favor of the Hurricanes. The Cane defense was dominant as they allowed Pelham less than 50 yards of offense in the first half.
The Pelham Hornets were celebrating homecoming on this night. My understanding of homecoming was always that you did not schedule a very tough team for your homecoming opponent. So, you can imagine my surprise when Pelham scheduled the defending Region 1AA champions for their homecoming game. To me, this was a suspect decision. The homecoming court was announced and a homecoming queen was crowned during half-time.
The third quarter of this ballgame looked quite similar to the first half with the Canes dominating on offense and defense. At the 9:35 mark in the third quarter, junior Jalin Shavers took the hand-off and ran off the left tackle. Shavers powered through several tacklers and plowed into the end zone. He classily handed the ball right to the referee. The Canes looked very unstoppable on this drive. Canes 28, Hornets 0.
Pelham’s answer to all of this scoring was to air out the ball. Quarterback James Flackler threw the ball 41 times in this game. He appeared to have a strong arm and could throw the ball with accuracy. They ran a steady diet of slant routes and curl routes. Pelham had several big receiving targets.
With 11:54 left in the fourth quarter, the Hornets broke through to score their first touchdown of the night. Flackler found a wide open Kobe Russell for an 11 yard touchdown pass. The Canes blitzed on the play and nobody covered Russell. Pelham missed the extra point. Canes 28, Hornets 6.
Two freshman wingbacks saw extended action in this game: Ethan Gordon and Damian Devine. At the 10:23 mark in the fourth quarter, Devine ran the ball off of left tackle for a three yard touchdown. This one was all Fitzgerald. Canes 35, Hornets 6.
The Hornets did not give up. They battled right back down the field to add another score. With 6:31 left, Russell ran the ball up the middle to give Pelham some more points. The Hornets converted the two-point play to draw a little closer to the Canes. Canes 35, Hornets 14.
The rest of the game was spent running out the clock. When the timer read 0.0, the Canes still held a 35-14 lead and were thinking about heading back to the house.
After the game, Head Hurricane Jason Strickland had the following comments regarding his team’s performance. Coach said that, “We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss every day. We’ve got a lot of things that we have to clean up.”
He added, “We had way too many penalties and some special team’s execution issues with guys not getting out on the field. I thought the guys played really hard tonight.”
Asked about QB Josh Reliford, Coach Strickland said, “He had an interception on defense. He moved the team down the field on offense and played just about every special teams play. We’ll be giving that kid a big ole pat on the back. We knew last spring that he was going to be a huge part of this team.”
Coach also stated that the Hurricanes have some injuries, “We had a couple of guys that were able to gut it out. Jason Pough and Chandler Hough were really banged up. We need to get James Graham and Quay Harper back. We are really banged up. Berrien County is not going to care about that next week.”
The Canes will play the Berrien County Rebels this week in Nashville with kick-off at 7:30 p.m. I will see you all down there for another important Region 1AA ballgame. Go Canes!
"BHMS takes back-to-back football conference titles"
Written by Sammy Reynolds
The Herald Leader
The Ben Hill Middle School football team had a second back-to-back perfect season, claiming its second consecutive Deep South Conference title. BHMS came into the game with a perfect 7-0 record defeating the 5-2 Americus team earlier in the season by the score of 28-20. Last Wednesday, the Canes took on Americus at Jaycee Stadium for the championship. BHMS has never beaten Americus in the playoffs BHMS won the toss and deferred until the second half.
The kickoff was fielded by Americus and returned to their 49 yard line as Dartavious Tomblin made the tackle. Americus scored on seven plays with poor execution in the Hurricane secondary. On third down and 25 from their own 44 yard line, Americus completed a long pass covering 44 yards for the first score of the game. The two point conversion was no good and Americus led 6-0.
The kickoff was deflected off a BHMS player and Americus recovered at the Canes 45 yard line. The defense forced a punt on fourth down due to a huge QB sack by Mark Clements during the possession. The punt was downed at the Canes 17 yard line.
The offense put together a 12 play, 83 yard drive with Roderick Williams scoring his first touchdown of the game from one yard out. Roderick Williams scored on the two point conversion to give the Canes a 8-6 lead.
The kickoff was short and recovered by Americus at their own 46 yard line. Americus move the ball to the BHMS 26 yard line where on fourth down and 13 the ball was overthrown to an open receiver in the end zone. The Canes took over on downs. The offense could not move the ball on the ground setting up third and six. QB DeMarion Dixon’s pass was picked off by Americus at the Canes 49 yard line and the defender returned the ball to the 34 before being run out of bounds by Markevious Faison.
Americus was forced to a fourth down and fifteen yards for a first, when the Americus QB scrambled and was finally forced out of bounds behind the stick by Markevious Faison to give the Canes the ball back with seconds on the clock before half-time. The Canes took a knee to run out the clock. The score at halftime was BHMS 8 Americus 6.
At the beginning of the second half, BHMS did not cover the kick off and Americus recovered on the Canes 22 yard line to give them great field position to start the second half. Americus put the ball into the end zone on three plays covering 22 yards. The two point conversion was successful and Americus led by the score of 14-8.
The Canes battled back as Mark Clements recovered an attempted on-side kick as the Canes started offensively at their own 45 yard line. The offense put together an 11 play drive covering 55 yards as Roderick Williams ran in from four yards out for his second touchdown of the game. RB Quantavious Pugh scored the two point conversion and the Canes retook the lead at 16-14.
The kickoff was kicked off the side of the kickers foot and Americus recovered at their own 49 yard line giving them good field position. The Canes defense backed Americus up to their own 45 yard line forcing Americus to punt on fourth down and 15. The punt was faked and due to poor tackling Americus would score on a 65 yard touchdown run. The two point conversion was successful and the score was Americus 22 BHMS 16.
The kickoff was fielded by Quantavious Pugh at the Canes five yard line and returned 21 yards on a tough run to the Canes 26 yard line where the Canes began offensively. The Canes offense put together a five play drive covering 74 yards for the Canes third score of the game. RB Roderick Williams had his best run of the game from 40 yards out for his third touchdown of the game. The Canes were penalized for a false start on the two point conversion and backed up to the 7 yard line. The two point conversion was successful as QB DeMarion Dixon connected with WB Dartavious Tomblin in the back corner of the end zone. The score was BHMS 24 Americus 22.
The kickoff was fielded by Americus and run back to their own 21 yard line where the Canes Devon Gordon forced the tackle. Americus would move the ball to the Canes 49 yard line where the Canes defense forced a fourth and 12. On the next play, NG Tony Duffie sacked the Americus QB at their own 40 yard line forcing a turnover on downs. On the first play for the Canes, RB Quantavious Pugh ran hard to the Americus 15 yard line for a 25 yard run. On the next play, RB Roderick Williams scored his fourth touchdown of the game from 15 yards out. Roderick scored the two point conversion from three yards out to give the Canes a 32-22 lead.
The kickoff was returned by Americus to their own 35 yard line where Todkevious Wallace forced the ball carrier out of bounds. Americus wasted no time scoring on three plays. Americus scored on a 45 yard pass play but the Canes held them out of the end zone for the two point conversion. The score was BHMS 32 Americus 28.
The Canes Dequavion Harper recovered the on-side kick for the Canes to seal the win. The Canes ran the remaining time out by taking a knee. The final score was BHMS 32 Americus 28.
“The offensive line blocked well today,” noted Head Coach Sammie Reynolds. “Jimmie Jones, Dequavion Harper, Jay Price, Malachi Timmons, Mark Clements, Dartavious Tomblin, Johnathan Thames, and Tony Duffie did a great job blocking today. The offense was never stopped today, they scored every time they had the football. Roderick Williams, Quantavious Pugh, and Dartavious Tomblin ran hard today. QB DeMarion Dixon did a great job running the offense today from his QB position. Coach McDonald, Coach Anderson, and Coach Hardin did a good job with the offense this year.”
“Mark Clements and Tony Duffie made huge sacks during the game today,” Coach Reynolds continued. “The defense forced two big stops today to get a turnover on downs. Coach Sandiford and Coach Hardin did a good job with the defense this year.”
BHMS now has a 16-0 record over the past two years and won back-to-back Deep South Championships.
"Canes take loss from region foe, Brooks"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Canes fans, this one hurts. There are no two ways around it. Losing is not enjoyable, and it stinks that we lost a heartbreaker to Brooks County last Friday. The good news is that we still have three games left in the regular season that can be used to work through some of the issues that presented themselves against a very talented Trojan team. The players and coaches for the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane will most certainly learn from this game and get better as a result.
All week, prior to Friday, I had an uneasy feeling about playing the Trojans. The Canes were able to handle Brooks County fairly convincingly last season and my concern was that we might overlook our biggest region rival. The Trojans, led by Coach Maurice Freeman, are always extremely athletic and very well prepared. It was quite apparent from the opening kick-off that Coach Freeman had spent several weeks reminding his players of the thumping that we put on them last year.
One of the reasons that football is such a fun sport to follow is that on any given night, either team can win. Despite disparities in talent; turnovers, coaching, and effort can allow a team with less raw ability the opportunity to overcome more talented opponents on the one given night. That is how we have upsets on a weekly basis in high school, college, and professional football. Last Friday night the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane played a Brooks County Trojan team that played a near perfect game. Our Canes did not. We made two costly turnovers and were unable to punch the ball into the end zone from the 1 yard line to end the game.
My son Jace and I arrived early to Jaycee Stadium and headed straight for the concession stand. Part of my pregame routine is to get a cheeseburger from the fine folks at the Jaycee Stadium concession stand. I have determined that we have the best concession stand in Region 1AA. If you have not tried their cheeseburgers, I highly recommend that you do so.
We found our seats and started watching the crowd. On this night it was the annual “Pink Out” game in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. Half of the stands were filled with fans in pink shirts. There was a very supportive and loud crowd on both sides of Jaycee Stadium. The night was perfect for football; cool breeze, not buggy, and beautiful venue. The stage was set for this Region 1AA classic against two teams who each advanced to the state semifinals last year in the GHSA playoffs.
Brooks County kicked off the football to start this contest. The Trojans used a squib kick on their kick-offs that looked similar to how we kicked off last year. After falling on the football, the Canes would have decent field position with their opening drive starting on the 31 yard line. Fitzgerald’s offense came out looking fantastic. The Canes rushed the ball six times on this opening drive for gains of 2, 9, -1, 5, 1 and finally 55 yards. The 55 yard touchdown run came from sophomore quarterback James Graham. Graham outran the Trojan defense and flashed his impressive breakaway speed on the play. This score came with 9:42 left in the first quarter. Senior kicker Raul Martinez missed the extra point after the touchdown. Canes 6, Trojans 0.
After a Hurricane kick-off, the Trojan offense went to work. Brooks County features a very balanced offense that can move the ball through the air and on the ground. Senior quarterback Demontay Jones proved to be a handful throughout this ballgame. On their first drive, Jones completed 3 of 5 passes for 33 yards. Jones also ran the ball for 10 yards. Another stud player for the Trojans is sophomore running back Jonathan White. On the opening drive White carried the ball four times for 23 yards. With 6:28 remaining in the first quarter, White took the ball three yards into the end zone to cap off the Trojan drive. The kicker for Brooks County drained the extra point to give the Trojans their first lead. Trojans 7, Canes 6.
The next score came near the end of the second quarter. Much of the second quarter featured two stingy defenses that refused to surrender points. Both teams punted the ball during the second quarter. The Canes successfully executed a fake punt as they drove down the field to attempt a field goal during the final minutes of the first half. At the 3:58 mark in the second quarter, Raul Martinez drilled a 33 yard field goal as the Canes regained the lead of this close game. Yards and points were hard to come by for both teams in the first half of this game. Canes 9, Trojans 6.
By far, the biggest play of the game came at 1:59 left in the second quarter. Our Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane had played some staunch defense and forced a Trojan punt. The punt snap went over the punter’s head and we looked like we could pounce on the football. Next, the Canes almost blocked the punt. Trojan punter Nate Vick escaped the Hurricane defense and sent a rocket punt up into the cool fall air. The punt traveled 40 yards. As it bounced around the turf, the ball grazed the leg of Hurricane punt returner Montrell Harris. After grazing his leg, the ball is now recoverable by either team and Brooks grabbed it. The net result of this crazy play was that the Trojans now had the ball at the 20 yard line. Two plays later, Jonathan White from Brooks County scampered into the end zone to give the Trojans the lead. As the half wound down, all of the Fitzgerald faithful had an uneasy feeling about this game. It felt like these mistakes might catch up to the Canes and ultimately they did. Trojans 14, Canes 9.
The Hurricanes have dominated the second half of games this year. I believe that this has occurred because our wonderful coaching staff has made the correct adjustments during the break to propel the Canes to victory. Sitting in the stands, I wondered what adjustments we might make to win this game.
Fitzgerald came out and put together an impressive drive down the field to re-capture the lead. Marching the ball 80 yards, the Canes pounded the ball down the throats of the Trojans. On this drive, the Canes used 13 running plays to move the ball. The drive concluded with a 3 yard run off right tackle by wingback Montrell Harris. Harris made a well-executed cut-back on the play to get into the endzone. Fitzgerald ran the same play on the two-point conversion to extend the lead. Canes 17, Trojans 14.
After recovering a Trojan fumble, the Canes marched again down to the 5 yard line. Unfortunately, with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter JD King fumbled the football back to Brooks County. Watching the Trojans, they really appeared to believe that they were going to pull off this upset.
Moving from their own 2 yard line, Brooks County used a mix of running and passing plays to drive the ball all the way down for a score. The scoring play came on a short pass play that turned into a 30 yard score. The screen pass was well executed and well blocked. The Hurricane defense missed several tackles on the play. With 4:54, the Canes were now losing. Trojans 21, Canes 17.
Fitzgerald’s final drive will be talked about for a long time around here. Using our power rushing attack, the Canes managed to get the ball all the way down to the Brooks County one yard line. Fitzgerald had three downs to try and stuff the ball into the end zone and were unable to do so. JD King was stonewalled and stood-up by the Trojan defense on each attempt to power the ball into the end zone. As time expired, the crowd and the Canes realized that our undefeated season was over. Hopefully we can learn from this one and get better.
Coach Strickland was reflective about the loss when I talked to him Monday. I asked if he would like to be passing the ball more? “I would love to,” he said. “It comes down to our personnel. We have a sophomore quarterback who can have accuracy issues and not a lot of guys who catch the ball well. If our passing game doesn’t look good in practice or in pregame, as a play-caller, I don’t feel confident calling those plays. There are two guys that I trust to catch the ball — JD King and Montrell Harris. Where we are at right now, we don’t have the personnel to throw the ball very much. As I critique myself, I would have liked to throw a pass on the 3rd and 6 right before we kicked the field goal.”
Even veteran head coaches learn from experience. On further thought on the Brooks loss, Coach Strickland said, “We’ve got to learn to finish. You can’t have a fumble on the 5 yard line. You can’t have the mistakes on the punting team. As a team and as a coaching staff, we’ve got to get better.”
On the stop at the goal line on the final drive, Coach Strickland noted, “I felt like we could have scored on a jet sweep. I had in the back of my head that if we don’t score and I don’t give the ball to JD King or James Graham, I would be kicking myself. If I had it all to do over again, I would have called the last three plays differently. I would have run the jet sweep and taken our chances. We probably should have run the jet sweep (play that Montrell Harris scored on in the third quarter.) We weren’t sure if we had enough time to run the jet. I think that a big part of the final four plays comes on my shoulders. I should have followed my call sheet and called the jet sweep. I will see you all in Pelham this week. It should be interesting to see what adjustments the Canes make after this tough loss.
"BHMS tops Lee County in semi-final game, 48-18"
Written by Sammy Reynolds
The Herald Leader
The Ben Hill Middle School football squad faced off with Lee County (West) last Wednesday afternoon at Jaycee Stadium in the Deep South Conference semi-final.
Lee County won the toss and deferred until the second half. The kickoff was muffed and the Canes Jimmie Jones recovered at the BHMS 40 yard line. BHMS got off to a quick start offensively, scoring on a seven play, 60 yard drive as Roderick Williams scored from 4 yards out. The two point conversion failed and the Canes led 6-0.
The kickoff was returned by Lee County to their own 30 yard line where Devon Gordon made the tackle. Lee County ran untouched for a 70 yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage due to poor execution by the Canes defense. The two point conversion failed and the score was tied 6-6.
Lee County attempted an on-side kick but the Canes Jay Price recovered at the 50 yard line. Again, the offense put together a 50 yard scoring drive on eight plays.
RB Mario Clark scored the touchdown from 10 yards out. The two point conversion was good as QB DeMarion Dixon connected with Dartavious Tomblin from 3 yards out. BHMS led 14-6.
BHMS forced another turnover on the kickoff as Devon Gordon forced a fumble and Jordan Hernandez recovered at the Lee County 23 yard line. Four plays later the Canes put the ball into the end zone for their third score. Roderick Williams scored the touchdown from 7 yards out. Roderick scored on the same play from 3 yards out for the two point conversion and the Canes led 22-6.
The kickoff was returned by Lee County to their own 30 yard line where Jordan Hernandez made the tackle. The defense gave up one first down but forced a fourth and long on the next series. Lee County faked the punt but BHMS was ready as LB Dequavion Harper made the tackle. The second offensive play for BHMS, RB Roderick Williams scored his second touchdown of the game from 54 yards out. Mario Clark scored on the two point conversion. The score was BHMS 30 Lee County 6.
The Canes got the ball back on the kickoff as Todkevious Wallace recovered a on-side kick. It took seven plays to get the ball into the end zone. RB Roderick Williams scored his third touchdown of the game from 1 yard out. The two point conversion was no good and the Canes led 36-6 at half time
BHMS kicked off to start the second half. Lee County returned the ball to their own 45 yard line. Lee County scored their second touchdown of the game on six plays covering 55 yards. The two point conversion was no good and the Canes led 36-12.
The attempted on-side kick was recovered by Chance Reynolds for the Canes at the 50 yard line for the second time in the game. BHMS pushed the ball into the end zone on five plays as Roderick Williams scored his fourth touchdown of the game from 4 yards out. The two point conversion failed. The canes led 42-12.
The kickoff was recovered for no return by Lee County at their own 40 yard line.
Lee County moved the ball 60 yards for their third score of the game. The two point conversion failed and the canes led 42-18.
The attempted on-side kick was fielded by Dartavious Tomblin at the Canes 40 yard line. On the first offensive play, RB Roderick Williams run 60 yards untouched for his fifth touchdown of the game. The two point conversion failed and the Canes led 48-18.
BHMS held Lee County out of the end zone on their final offensive possession and the Canes took a knee offensively to run the clock out.
The final score was BHMS 48 Lee County (West) 18.
BHMS moves to a perfect 7-0 for the season and will host the Deep South Championship for the second year in a row. BHMS will face Americus today at Jaycee Stadium starting at 5 p.m. All tickets are $5 at the gate and only GHSA passes will be accepted. The game will be broadcast on radio station WRDO 96.9.
"Hurricane dominates Thomasville - 41-14"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
From the moment I left Fitzgerald, headed for Thomasville, last Friday night, it rained. Throughout the entire 85 mile trip from my house to the field, I enjoyed a steady deluge from the heavens. As I drove to the legendary Thomasville football stadium, I wondered how this year’s meeting between the Thomasville Bulldogs and the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane would go. Thomasville played very well against the Canes last season, and the Bulldogs handed Fitzgerald their only regular season loss in 2014.
Having researched the Bulldogs for the season preview edition, I found that this 2015 Thomasville team was very young. The Bulldogs graduated most of their skilled position players from last year. When asked about Thomasville’s youth, Fitzgerald Head Coach Jason Strickland said that he still expected the Bulldogs to be very tough. Coach Strickland is friends with the head coach from Thomasville, and Coach Strickland has told me on several occasions that Coach Ryals (Thomasville’s head coach) does an excellent job preparing his guys. Heading to Thomasville, I was preparing for a dog fight.
The historic Thomasville football stadium is an old school football field built into the ground. As I approached the entrance, I noticed that the field was about 25 feet lower than where I entered the complex. The seats served as the staircase from the entrance level to the field level. On this wet evening most fans had umbrellas. The field appeared to be very wet, and the rain continued for most of this event. It is also worth mentioning that there were twice as many Fitzgerald fans at this game as Thomasville fans. Apparently, the Bulldog fans didn’t want to sit in the rain.
Fitzgerald received the opening kick-off and started the opening drive with the ball on the 34 yard line. The Hurricane rushing attack went right to work against the Thomasville defense. After rushes of 3, 15, and 8 yards, JD King made the home-run play. King took the ball on a 39 yard journey into the end zone. He was slowed by a few would-be tacklers, but was able to run through the Bulldog defense for the opening score of the game. The sloppy field conditions did not appear to slow down the Hurricane fullback. King’s touchdown came with 11:10 remaining in the first quarter. Canes 7, Bulldogs 0.
After a Raul Martinez touchback on Fitzgerald’s first kick-off, Thomasville drove the ball to the Cane 35 yard line. On 4th and 1, the Bulldogs attempted to keep their drive going with a run up the middle. Needing 1 yard, the Thomasville offense was only able to muster half a yard. The play resulted in a turnover on downs for the Bulldogs. Again, the Cane running attack went back to work. This time the Hurricane rushed the ball for 2, 30, 11, and 25 yard gains. The 25 yard gain was the second touchdown for junior fullback JD King. On this run, King was able to elude several Thomasville tacklers on his way into the end zone. This second JD King touchdown came with 6:09 to play in the first quarter. Canes 14, Bulldogs 0.
The Fitzgerald defense was able to shut down Thomasville and get the ball back for the offense. From their own 40 yard line, the Hurricane offense continued rolling down the field. On this soggy night, the Canes couldn’t be stopped. On this drive, Hurricane quarterback James Graham found sophomore Montrell Harris for a 23 yard passing play. This drive ended with a third touchdown from JD King. King juked past a few Bulldog defenders on his way to a 23 yard touchdown run with 3:14 left in the first quarter. What a start for the Hurricane! Canes 21, Bulldogs 0.
Thomasville’s offense started moving to end the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, with 11:51 remaining, Bulldog quarterback JT Rice found Ford Faulk for a 20 yard swing pass touchdown. The Cane defenders missed a few tackles on the play. Canes 21, Bulldogs 7.
On the ensuing kick-off, the Bulldogs surprised Fitzgerald with a pooch kick. The Canes were unable to recover the kick and Thomasville pounced on the football. On a kick-off, the ball is fair game after it is kicked ten yards. Since Thomasville recovered the ball, they then had excellent field position on Fitzgerald’s 30 yard line. Coach Strickland said, “We had a young guy out there on kick return coverage (which caused the turnover)”.
Despite the amazing field position, the Bulldogs were unable to score. They attempted a field goal that was unsuccessful. On that play the Bulldogs suffered from a bad snap.
The Canes struck again with 4:21 left in the second quarter. James Graham added to the Hurricane scoreboard with a 3 yard run on a quick snap into the end zone. The Graham touchdown was an exclamation to an 84 yard drive that featured 10 running plays. The Hurricane offense and offensive line were dominant in this ballgame. Canes 28, Bulldogs 7.
Just before half-time, Thomasville’s offense struck again. JT Rice found Ford Faulk for a 51 yard bomb. Faulk beat the Hurricane defense on this play and ran untouched into the end zone. This felt like a very deflating play that took some momentum from the Canes heading into half-time. This play came with 3:30 left in the second quarter. Canes 28, Bulldogs 14.
Heading into half-time, I wondered if the Canes or the Bulldogs would come into the second half with a superior plan. Would Thomasville claw back into this one? Or would the Canes turn it up a notch and finish off the vulnerable Bulldogs? As it turned out, the Canes turned it up a notch.
On the first play of the second half (after the kick-off), the Canes showed their defensive dominance. Darrius Hampton picked up a Bulldog fumble and took the ball 17 yards for an important touchdown. The play came with 11:49 remaining in the third quarter. Fitzgerald missed the extra point. Canes 34, Bulldogs 14.
At the 7:47 mark in the third quarter James Graham passed the ball to JD King for a 47 yard touchdown. What a fitting way to end the scoring in this contest. This score cemented the Fitzgerald victory. Canes 41, Bulldogs 14.
The rest of the game would feature many future Cane players getting some playing time. After four rain-soaked quarters, the game came to an end with the final score being Canes 41, Bulldogs 14.
After the game, head coach Jason Strickland said that, “The field was real spongy (from the rain.) That was one of the reasons that we started getting guys out of the game early.” Coach Strickland said, “We had a very good week of practice. From an offensive standpoint, those guys really challenged themselves. It didn’t take much from us as coaches. JD King, Jason Poe, Lecitus Smith — those guys really challenged themselves and wanted to perform well tonight. We were pleased with the start we had tonight.”
The Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane are off this week for a well-deserved bye week, and Coach Strickland noted, “With the first break (first bye week) we needed a mental break. This time we need a physical break.”
The Fitzgerald band was also on hand and played throughout the entire evening in the rain. Great job, Marching ‘Canes. You all sounded great! The Canes take one week off prior to hosting the Brooks County Trojans. The Trojans are coming to town with an impressive 4-2 record. They have advanced to the AA semifinals each of the past two seasons. I anticipate a very closely fought contest on October 16 when these two teams get together to battle for Region 1AA supremacy. See you at Jaycee Stadium!
"BHMS is 5-0 on season. Defeats Crisp Co., 18-14"
Written by Sammy Reynolds
The Herald Leader
The BHMS Canes football team hosted the Crisp County Cougars for the first time this season in the Deep South Football Conference last Wednesday. Both teams entered the contest with a perfect record of 4-0. The Canes won the toss and deferred until the second half. The kickoff was returned by Crisp to their own 34 yard line. Crisp would move the ball 66 yards on 9 plays for the first score of the game. The two point conversion failed and Crisp led 6-0.
The kickoff was returned by Roderick Williams to the Canes 33 yard line where the offense took over. BHMS put together a 8 play drive to the Crisp 22 yard line before Crisp forced a fumble which was the first turnover of the game. Crisp took over at their own 23 yard line offensively.
The defense did not give up a yard and forced Crisp County to punt on fourth down. The punt was fielded by Quantavious Pugh where he lost yardage and was tackled at the Canes 35 yard line. It only took the Canes four plays to get into the end zone for their first score of the game. RB Quantavious Pugh ran 64 yards untouched due to good execution by the offense to the Crisp County 1 yard line. RB Roderick Williams scores the touchdown from one yard out. The two point conversion failed and the Canes were tied 6-6.
The short kickoff was downed by Crisp to their own 44 yard line. Crisp put together a 56 yard scoring drive. The Canes defense forced Crisp to a fourth down and 24 yards from the Canes 33 yard line. Crisp converted the score on a 33 yard pass and run. The two point conversion was good and Crisp led 14-6 at halftime.
The second half kickoff was recovered by Crisp County at the Canes 30 yard line due to poor execution. The Canes defense came up big forcing Crisp County to punt on fourth down. Quantavious Pugh returned the punt to the Canes 20 yard line a 6 yard return.
The offense drove the ball 80 yards for their second score of the game picking up a first down from a fourth down conversion from QB De’Marion Dixon to Quantavious Pugh covering 21 yards. This was a huge play for the Canes. RB Roderick Williams scored the touchdown later from 10 yards out. The two point conversion failed and the Canes trailed 14-12.
The Canes kickoff was very short and Crisp recovered at the 50 yard line to give them great field position. On the second play from scrimmage NG Tony Duffie forced a fumble and LB Jordan Hernandez recovered at the Canes 42 yard line. This was second big play in the game for the Canes and the first forced turnover.
BHMS put together a 10 play, 68 yard drive with time running out to score the winning touchdown. QB De’Marion Dixon had two huge passes that were crucial in the drive. De’Marion connected to Quantavious Pugh covering 25 yards on a third and long, and connected with TE Jimmie Jones covering 12 yards on a fourth and ten. The Canes had the ball on the 4 yard line with six seconds left in the game.
De’Marion Dixon was pressured quickly forcing a quick throw that was almost intercepted. With one second remaining in the game, RB Quantavious Pugh scored the game winning touchdown on a quick pitch to the right side from 4 yards out.
BHMS won 18-14.
“RB Quantavious Pugh, QB De’Marion Dixon, and TE Jimmie Jones stepped up today and played extremely hard,” Head Coach Sammy Reynolds said. BHMS is 5-0 in the Deep South Conference. The Canes travel to Macon County today for their last regular season game.
"Canes take 30-0 win in defensive slugfest with 'Cats"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Getting prepared for Friday night Football takes a lot of effort. Last week’s Homecoming game against the Early County Bobcats included some extra motivation for fans and players alike — a lively Friday afternoon pep rally.
I have worked for three different high schools during my tenure as a Social Studies teacher. Fitzgerald High School most definitely does the best job of producing and executing pep rallies. Every moment of the Homecoming pep rally last Friday afternoon was exciting and engaging for the students and faculty of FHS. Everyone, especially our Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane football team, left the pep rally ready for a big-time Homecoming game.
Last week the student body of FHS was jacked up as the school celebrated Homecoming. Students spent the week dressing up for the school spirit days as the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane prepared to take on the pesky Early County Bobcats in the Homecoming ballgame. Each of the ladies on the Homecoming court was treated to the opportunity to watch the ballgame from field level. As I found my seat at Jaycee Stadium, I felt myself captivated by the entire spectacle. On the Canes side of the stadium, there was a huge crowd. Every Cane fan hoped for a strong opening performance in this first region 1AA match-up of the regular season.
This game started with a Raul Martinez touchback into the Early County endzone. Martinez and the kick-off team have been one of the truly bright parts of the 2015 edition of the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane.
Every time Martinez drills a kick-off into the endzone, the opponent is forced to start from the 20 yard line. By comparison, most of the opponent’s offensive drives from last year started near the 35 yard line due to return yardage gained against last year’s kick-off coverage team.
Early County was unable to do much with their first possession. After accumulating one first down, the Bobcats punted to Fitzgerald who would have the ball on their own 43 yard line.
The first drive for the Canes was a microcosm of the entire ball game. It was very difficult for Fitzgerald to move the ball on a stout Early County Bobcat defense. The explosive plays that Hurricane fans have become accustomed to were few and far between in this ballgame.
Fitzgerald was able to slowly and methodically move the ball down the field using short runs from James Graham and JD King. With 5:50 remaining in the first quarter, wingback Montrell Harris broke a sweep right for an 18 yard touchdown run. It was very apparent that Early County was devoting their attention to stopping Graham and King. Harris ran untouched into the endzone for the opening score of the game. Canes 7, Bobcats 0.
The second drive for Early County ended abruptly when Bobcat quarterback Miles Norman overthrew his receiver and found Hurricane cornerback Quay Harper for an interception. Harper returned the interception 28 yards for the pick-six. The Canes were bringing tremendous pressure all night at Norman and his crew. The pressure on this particular play forced Norman to overthrow his intended receiver. The score came with 4:48 to go in the first quarter. Jaycee Stadium was rocking, and the Canes were rolling. Canes 14, Bobcats 0.
After forcing another punt, the Cane offense went back to work. This time JD King was able to break loose for his only touchdown of the contest. King took the ball off right tackle for a 35 yard breakaway score. This play showcased King’s tremendous speed and gave the Canes a huge lead. With 2:41 left in the first quarter, the Canes now had a 20 point lead. Fitzgerald attempted a two point conversion and was unable to convert. Canes 20, Bobcats 0.
There was no scoring in the second quarter. In fact the quarter featured two very talented defenses that didn’t desire to surrender any points. For the first time this season, a defense slowed down the two-headed monster of James Graham (AA leading rusher coming into the game) and JD King (3rd in AA in rushing coming into the game.)
Fitzgerald came into the game boasting the AA leading rushing offense in the state of Georgia. I’ll be interested to see where the Canes rank after playing a difficult Early County Bobcat defense. By the end of the game, the Canes had managed 197 rushing yards which is well below their season average.
Half-time was used for the crowning of the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane Homecoming Queen. The 2015 Homecoming Queen is my former student — Markeela Bozeman. Congratulations, young lady! I love the way that the school announces the full Homecoming court and really makes a big deal of the entire event. It is also very encouraging to see these young ladies escorted by an older male such as their Dad, Grandfather, Step-father, or Uncle. FHS does a classy job celebrating Homecoming.
The third quarter of this ballgame featured two big plays from the Hurricane; a long interception return and a field goal. With 7:30 remaining in the quarter, safety Joshua Reliford intercepted a Miles Norman pass and returned the pick 49 yards. Reliford has been a reliable starter for the past two seasons.
The ensuing drive stalled at the Bobcat 13 yard line where Raul Martinez would check into the game to attempt a 31 yard field goal. At the 4:39 mark in the third quarter Martinez drilled the field goal to extend the Cane lead. Canes 23, Bobcats 0.
Jalin Shavers scored his first touchdown of the season with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter. Shavers took the ball 3 yards into the endzone to cushion the Cane lead. JD King served as a lead blocker on the play. Canes 30, Bobcats 0.
The game ball for this ballgame goes to the Fitzgerald defense. After giving up almost 600 yards last week, the Canes only surrendered 87 yards against Early County. This defense was dominant and had Bobcat quarterback Miles Norman scrambling and pressured all night. Norman threw two interceptions that were returned for 28 and 49 yards respectively. One of the aforementioned interceptions was returned for a touchdown and the other lead to the Cane’s field goal. Both turnovers allowed Fitzgerald to amass 10 points off of turnovers.
After the game, head Cane Jason Strickland was very happy to get a victory. Coach said, “They have a tendency to make you play ugly. Give credit to those guys. We didn’t execute on the offensive side of the football like we needed to.”
Coach Strickland praised his defense saying that they “came under a lot of criticism last week, but they carried us all night long. I’m really proud of those guys. Coach Burkhart and that staff really challenged those guys. We needed it because we knew what Early County’s defense was going to be like.”
When asked about his offense, coach said, “We’ll take 30 every Friday night but still we’ve got to get better at executing. We are relying on the big play and not putting drives together. I thought the referees officiated a great game, but they were a little slow spotting the ball which impacted our tempo.”
Coach also singled out his kick-off coverage unit saying, “I want to congratulate our kick-off coverage. That guy (for Early County) has already returned two for touchdowns this season.”
This week the Hurricane will travel to Thomasville to take on the Bulldogs. Thomasville was the only team to defeat Fitzgerald during the regular season last year, so the Canes are certainly hoping to avenge the loss from 2014. Coach Strickland said, “I expect them to be physical and well-coached. We had a great crowd tonight and would like the same thing next week in Thomasville.”
There you have it; a personal invite from the head coach of your Fitzgerald High School Purple Hurricane. I hope to see you in Thomasville!
"BHMS tops undefeated Americus — 28-20"
Written by Sammy Reynolds
The Herald Leader
On September 16, the Ben Hill Middle School Canes traveled to Americus to play Americus middle school. BHMS and Americus were both undefeated on the season, a perfect 3-0.
BHMS won the toss and deferred until the second half.
The kickoff was fielded by Americus and returned to the Canes 40 yard line where Roderick Williams made the tackle. Americus scored the first touchdown on a three play drive, capped off on a forty-five yard run. The two point conversion was no good and Americus led 6-0 early.
The kickoff was returned to the Canes 37 yard line by Dartavious Tomblin. The offense could not move the ball and turned it over on downs at their own 26 yard line. Americus took over but could not put the ball in the end zone when LB Roderick Williams stripped the football at the 3 yard line and returned it to the Canes 7 yard line before being tackled. The Canes offense put together a 10-play drive covering ninety-four yards for their first touchdown of the game. RB Mario Clark ran in from 32 yards out for the touchdown and the two point conversion failed. The score was BHMS 6 Americus 6.
Americus returned the BHMS kickoff back to their 42 yard line as Roderick Williams made the tackle. The defense came up with their second turnover of the game stopping a long drive by Americus. LB Dequavion Harper intercepted a pass and returned it twenty yards to the Canes 35 yard line. An illegal block backed the Canes up to their own 25 yard line to begin their third offensive possession. BHMS had a chance to run one more offensive play before half time but should have run the clock out.
The Canes fumbled the football and Americus returned it for a touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. The two point conversion was no good and Americus led at half-time by the score of 12-6.
The second half kickoff was returned by Dartavious Tomblin to the Canes 37 yard line. The Canes offense put together a nine-play drive covering 63 yards for their second score of the game. RB Roderick Williams ran in from 15 yards out and Quantavious Pugh scored on the two-point conversion. BHMS led by the score of 14-12.
The kickoff was returned by Americus to their own 31 yard line when Roderick Williams made the tackle for the Canes. Americus put together a seven-play, 69 yard drive due to poor execution by the Canes defense. Americus scored on a 28 yard run. The two point conversion was good and Americus led by the score of 20-14.
Americus attempted an on-side kick but the Jay Price recovered on the Canes 47 yard line. The offense took seven plays to get another score covering 53 yards. RB Quantavious Pugh scored his first touchdown from five yards out. The two point conversion failed and the game was tied 20-20.
BHMS attempted an on-side kick but Americus recovered at their own 48 yard line. The Canes defense came up big. The defense forced a turnover on downs and gave the offense good field position at the Americus 47 yard line. The BHMS offense took nine plays covering 47 yards to retake the lead. The drive was capped off by a three yard touchdown run by RB Roderick Williams. Quantavious Pugh scored the two point conversion and the Canes led by the score of 28-20.
The Canes kickoff was fair caught by Americus at their own 43 yard line. Americus had time to run three plays but the Canes defense kept them out of the end zone to run the BHMS season record to 4-0.
The next game for BHMS is today against an undefeated Crisp County team. The game is at Jaycee Stadium starting at 5 p.m.
"Canes outlast Bulldogs in 57-32 Jaycee shootout"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Heading into last Friday’s game, the community knew that the Macon County Bulldogs would be a challenging AA non-region opponent. The Bulldogs won region 4AA last year and appear to have the quality of team needed to repeat. They have been to the playoffs for the past few seasons. The Bulldogs feature a very impressive passing attack led by junior quarterback K’hari Lane. The game between the Bulldogs and the Hurricanes last season was decided by one score as the Canes outlasted the Bulldogs. We all expected something similar on Friday.
It was a perfect night for football in Jaycee Stadium. The evening could best be described as comfortably warm. There was a cool breeze and no gnats. Both bands rocked out. I remember that Macon County had a very good band last season, and this year their band was just as talented.
The Hurricane received the opening kick-off and went straight to work. The offense started the drive with the ball on the Bulldog 18 yard line. Sophomore quarterback James Graham found junior JD King on an impressive 40 yard pitch and catch play on this opening drive. The Canes quickly moved down the field and scored with 9:13 remaining in the first quarter. King scored on a 14 yard sweep right. The playmaker found some open space and made two guys miss on his way to the end zone. King makes it look easy out there. Canes 7, Bulldogs 0.
The ensuing kickoff went in the Bulldog end zone for a touchback. The Cane defense came out firing on all cylinders and promptly forced a 3 and out.
Antonio Perry received the punt and made a spectacular play on the return. Perry ran through three arm tackles on his way to a 40 yard highlight-reel punt return for a touchdown. The play came with 7:39 left in the first quarter. The Fitzgerald coaches couldn’t have scripted a better start to the game. Coach Strickland said, “We felt like special teams was the one place where we had an advantage.” Clearly, the coaching staff had done their homework. Canes 14, Bulldogs 0.
The Bulldogs answered with an impressive drive of their own. Junior quarterback K’hari Lane came out slinging the ball. Lane was throwing darts all night, with an almost overwhelming 469 yards through the air. The Macon County passing offense was very explosive and very difficult to defend. On most plays there were four to five Bulldog receivers for the Hurricane defense to cover. Lane threw the ball nine times on this drive as they moved the ball 80 yards. The first running play for the Bulldogs was a 6 yard touchdown run for Jared Daniels with 5:08 left in the first quarter. This was a very impressive drive for this gritty bunch from Macon County. The Bulldog extra point attempt was blocked. Canes 14, Bulldogs 6.
After a James Graham fumble, the Bulldog offense went back to work. Macon County quickly drove the ball down the field and scored again. With 3:53 left in the first quarter, quarterback Lane found Daniels for a 10 yard score. The Bulldogs attempted an unsuccessful two-point conversion. Canes 14, Bulldogs 12.
The Cane offense could not be stopped on this night. The only time Fitzgerald was stopped was when the boys in purple stopped themselves. The Canes rode their horses JD King and James Graham down the field for another touchdown. At the 2:29 mark, Graham ran right off the right tackle for a 2 yard touchdown. Canes 21, Bulldogs 12.
After one quarter, fans realized that it would be a long night. The Bulldog passing attack led to lots of clock stoppages since the clock stops every time there is an incomplete pass. After one quarter the Canes had a 9-point lead. Fitzgerald fans certainly didn’t feel comfortable. The Canes offense had looked very impressive; however, the Canes made two costly fumbles in the quarter.
FHS struck next with stud running back JD King. With 6:45 to go in the second quarter, King took a ten yard run off left tackle to the house. The Hurricane extended their lead with their impressive rushing attack. Canes 28, Bulldogs 12.
K’hari Lane and the Macon County boys countered with a touchdown of their own. The Bulldogs scored on a Lane bomb down the left sideline. Bulldog receiver Keldrick Thomas was able to get some separation and Lane hit him in stride for a 36 yard touchdown. Macon County converted the two point conversion to cut their deficit to eight points. This explosive play came with 2:37 left in the half. Canes 28, Bulldogs 20.
The final score of the first half happened with 1:40 remaining in the half. The score capped another impressive Hurricane drive. James Graham ran the ball in from 5 yards out to extend the Fitzgerald lead. Canes 35, Bulldogs 20.
After a spirited half-time featuring excellent performances from both bands, the shootout continued.
With 3:58 left in the third quarter, JD King scored again on a 10 yard rumble. King was slowed down several yards from the goal line, and he moved the pile past the goal line to extend the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane lead. This play showcased the toughness of this offense. Canes 42, Bulldogs 20.
Macon County came right back and countered with their own scoring drive. The Bulldogs marched down the field and scored on a 20 yard dart pass from K’hari Lane to Kyron Smith. The play came with 2:10 to go in the third quarter. Lane has a very strong arm and a lightning quick delivery. Canes 42, Bulldogs 26.
The next play sealed the victory for the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane. The Canes fielded the kick-off from Macon County and Montrell Harris took the kick-off 85 yards to the Promised Land! Harris followed his blocks perfectly as he flashed his impressive breakaway speed. Canes 49, Bulldogs 26.
Each team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter. For Fitzgerald, quarterback James Graham busted off a 60 yard run. Macon County’s Jared Daniels added a score for the Bulldogs on the ground. When the dust settled the Canes earned themselves an impressive 57-32 victory over a top 10 AA program in Macon County. After the game, Head Cane Jason Strickland said that, “We knew that there was going to be fireworks all over the field. Defensively, we tried to play behind everything. We gave up some key first downs. We thought that we could make a few stops in the redzone. At half-time, we told the guys that we could have extended the lead without those turnovers. We need to correct those.”
When asked about the two first quarter fumbles, coach said, “We’ve got to be better disciplined than that. We like the way that they battled. Staying with the game plan and believing in the game plan and understanding that they (Macon County) were going to make plays. I am certainly glad that they are behind us. I hope we don’t have to see them in the playoffs.”
Coach Strickland praised his offensive line saying, “That group has had to grind all season long. They opened up holes. They are not very big, but they play very fast and that is what we have got to have. Coach Strickland also said that special teams really helped out in this one. He said, “That (the play of the special team’s unit) was huge. We got two special teams scores. Huge turnovers! For what we were facing tonight, the talent that we were facing over there, those plays really helped”.
Speaking on his defense, Strickland said, “We are not going to have a parade giving up 32 points. But for what we were facing, that is probably as good as we could do.”
Coach Strickland said that K’hari Lane is the real deal. “The kid was fantastic last year,” he said. “Watching him on film, we felt like he had gotten better. They had a couple of key drops that if they don’t have this thing might have been a lot closer.”
This week we have Early County. The Bobcats have been a thorn in Fitzgerald’s side over the years. Coach Strickland said that, “They are going to be physical on defense. We feel like they are better offensively than what we saw last year.”
It should be an excellent homecoming match-up. I am looking forward to celebrating homecoming this week at Fitzgerald High School. We will see you at Jaycee Stadium on Friday!
"BHMS Canes top 2 Lee County teams"
Written by Sammy Reynolds
The Herald Leader
The Ben Hill Middle School Hurricane football team faced off with two separate Lee County teams and defeated both. On September 2, they played Lee County (East) at Jaycee Stadium. Last Wednesday, they took on Lee County (West) also in Jaycee Stadium.
Lee County (East)
Lee County won the toss and elected to defer until the second half. Lee County attempted an on-side kick but illegally touched the ball on their own 49 yard line where the Canes began offensively. On the first play, RB Roderick Williams ran untouched from 49 yards out for the first score of the game. Roderick Williams also scored the two-point conversion from 3 yards out. The Canes led early by the score of 8-0.
The kickoff was returned by Lee County to their own 45 yard line where the Canes’ Shamond Griffin made the tackle. Lee County drove the ball to the Canes 13 yard line before the Canes defense forced a turnover on downs. BHMS then took the ball to the Lee County 7 yard line, before Lee County forced a fumble and recovered at their own 8 yard line. Lee County put together a seven play 87 yard drive for their first score of the game. The two point conversion failed and the score was BHMS 8 Lee County 6.
The short kickoff was fielded with no return by the Canes Roderick Williams at the BHMS 30 yard line. The Canes drove the ball on 11 plays to the Lee County 1 yard line before turning it over on downs. Lee County would run one play before half-time but the Canes defense stopped them for no gain. The score at half-time was BHMS 8 Lee County 6.
The Canes kickoff began the second half. Lee County returned the kickoff to their own 40 yard line. The Canes defense came up big with a fumble recovery at the Lee County 43 yard line on the first Lee County offensive play. Jake Young recovered the fumble for the Canes. The offense scored for the second time on a five-play drive covering 43 yards. RB Mario Clark scored his first touchdown of the season from 10 yards out. The two point conversion failed and the score was BHMS 14 Lee County 6.
The kickoff was fielded on the 25 yard line and returned to the 30 yard line by Lee County as Todkevious Wallace. Lee County moved the ball to the Canes 35 yard line before the Canes defense forced a turnover on downs. The Canes offense would put together a nine-play drive covering 75 yards for the Canes third score of the game. RB Roderick Williams scored from four yards out and converted the two-point conversion to give the Canes a 22-6 lead.
The Canes would hold on to win by the final score of 22-6.
Lee County (West)
BHMS hosted Lee County (West) at Jaycee Stadium on Wednesday. Lee County won the toss and deferred until the second half. BHMS returned the kickoff to their own 38 yard line where the offense went to work. The Canes put the ball into the end zone for the first score of the game on four plays, capped off by a 40 yard touchdown run by RB Roderick Williams. Roderick would score the two point conversion from 3 yards out. BHMS led 8-0.
The kickoff was returned by Lee County to their own 27 yard line before Dequavion Harper made a good open field tackle. Lee County would drive the ball 73 yards on six plays for their first score of the game due to the Canes defense losing containment.
The two point conversion was no good and the Canes led 8-6The kickoff was returned by Jimmie Jones to the Canes 37 yard line to begin another offensive possession. RB Roderick Williams outran Lee County for his second touchdown of the game on the Canes first offensive play covering sixty-three yards. The two point conversion was no good and the Canes led 14-6.
The short kickoff was downed by Lee County at their own 37 yard line. Lee County scored on the first offensive play due to the Canes defense again losing containment. The two point conversion failed and the score was BHMS 14 Lee County 12.
The kickoff was fielded by Roderick Williams on the 20 yard line and returned 80 yards for his third touchdown of the game. RB Quantavious Pugh would score the two point conversion from 3 yards out to give the Canes a 22-12 lead.
The kickoff was blown dead at the Lee County 48 yard line to begin their offensive possession. The Canes defense finally forced a punt on four downs backing Lee County back to their own 45 yard line. The punt was almost blocked by the Canes Dartavious Tomblin and was blown dead at the Canes 44 yard line. The Canes scored on the second play from scrimmage from a 40 yard run from RB Mario Clark. Roderick Williams scored the two point conversion from 3 yards out and the Canes extended the lead 30-12.
Lee County fielded the kickoff at their own 28 yard line and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown due to the Canes losing contain. The two point conversion was good and the Canes led 30-20.
Lee County attempted an on side kick but Dequavion Harper recovered on the cane 47 yard line. The offense turned the ball over on downs to Lee County at their own 47 yard line. The Canes offense turned the ball over on downs to Lee County at the Lee 44 yard line. Lee County fumbled the ball back to the Canes as Jake Young recovered at the Canes 40 yard line. The Canes offense put together a three play drive covering 60 yards as RB Roderick Williams scored his fourth touchdown of game from 29 yards out.
The two point conversion failed and the Canes led 36-20.
The kickoff was downed by Lee County at their own 35 yard line where they took over offensively. On the second offensive play FS Todkevious Wallace intercepted a pass and returned it 26 yards to the Lee County 17 yard line to give the Canes good field position. It only took the Canes offense four plays to score. RB Roderick Williams scored his fifth touchdown of the game from 3 yards out and RB Quantavious Pugh scored on the two point conversion. The Canes led by the score of 44-20.
The kickoff was fielded by Lee County at their own 10 yard line and a host of Canes made the tackle at the Lee County 22 yard line. Lee County would drive the ball on nine plays to the Canes 30 yard line before the Canes defense would force a turnover on downs.
The Canes offense took three plays to get the ball into the end zone and RB Roderick Williams scored his sixth touchdown of the game from 45 yards out. RB Dartavious Tomblin scored the two point conversion and gave BHMS a commanding 52-20 lead.
Lee County scored two more touchdowns before the final buzzer. The last touchdown was an interception by BHMS and on the return Lee County forced a fumble, and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. The final score was BHMS 52 Lee County 32.
“I was proud of the offensive line: Jay Price, Dequavion Harper, Tony Duffie, Mark Clements, Malachi Timmons, and Jimmie Jones,” noted Head Coach Sammy Reynolds. “They did a good job blocking. I thought Dartavious Tomblin and Mark Clements played well defensively. We need to do a better job tackling and containing the run. We play Americus next and I know they are very good team this year.”
BHMS is 3-0 in the Deep South Conference and play Americus today in Americus starting at 5 p.m.
"Canes 2-TD second half stops Irwin, 35-14"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
The atmosphere in Fitzgerald was dynamic last week. Students at Fitzgerald High School were jacked up with energy in anticipation of the annual border war game with Irwin County. Fitzgerald has not lost a match-up to Irwin County since 2000, so expectations for this game were very high. The students and faculty made a lot of noise at FHS in a very spirited pep rally prior to this important game.
I arrived to the Irwin County facility with my family around 7 p.m. last Friday evening. Apparently, we should have got there earlier because there were no seats. I watched this one from the ground level with my notebook in hand.
It was a hot and sweaty evening. Both sides of the field were ripe with anticipation. Folks from Irwin County said that it was the biggest crowd that they had seen at their newer stadium complex.
The Canes kicked off the football to start the contest. The Irwin County Indians put together an impressive drive to move the ball well into Fitzgerald territory. The Indians ran the ball 8 times on the drive. The drive eventually stalled and Irwin turned over the ball on downs to the Canes.
The first Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane drive netted 7 points. The Hurricane moved the ball using a few wide receiver screens and several long runs. The Canes were able to amass four first downs as they rolled down the field. With 4:46 remaining in the first quarter the Canes broke the ice to get on the score board. James Graham spun his way to a 19 yard touchdown run. Canes 7, Indians 0.
The Indians came right back and answered with a scoring drive of their own. Irwin continued pounding the ball with their star running back DJ Pollard. Pollard who played on offense and defense had a very impressive performance in this ballgame. The Indians eventually put the ball in the end zone when Pollard rumbled for 12 yards. The Pollard score came with 11:48 remaining in the second quarter. Canes 7, Indians 7.
The Canes scored again with 8:42 left in the second quarter. After driving the ball from their own 32 yard line, the Canes punched in a touchdown with all-state running back JD King. King ran the ball 10 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. We may have a star on our hands with JD King. This young man, still a junior, has already been offered a scholarship to Georgia Southern, and I expect him to continue to receive scholarship offers. Heading into week three, King had the most rushing yards in the state of Georgia. The extra point was missed. Canes 13, Indians 7.
With 3:58, JD King made the play of the game. The Canes were pinned back on their own 13 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, King took the hand-off for an 87 yard game-changing play. King found a hole through the line of scrimmage and was off to the races. JD was noticeably faster than the Indian defense. The Hurricane ran a nifty two-point conversion after the score. The play was designed to look like an extra point attempt. The holder, Josh Reliford, received the snap. He then stood up and found a surging Lecitus Smith. Canes 21, Indians 7.
The Indians used the remainder of the second quarter to move down the field. Irwin County methodically drove the ball down the field to try to claw back into this border war. Using a steady diet of running plays, the Indians eventually added to their point total for the night. With 4.8 seconds left in the first half, Indian quarterback Zack Tollar dove across the goal line to give the Irwin County fans something to cheer about. The game went into half with only a touchdown separating the Indians and the Canes. Canes 21, Indians 14.
At half-time, the game was suspended due to lightning. This weather delay stalled action for at least 30 minutes.
The Canes coaching staff does a wonderful job of making half-time adjustments. Heading into half-time, the game was very close. I thought at half-time that it was apparent that the Hurricane would need to make a few adjustments in the third quarter. Thankfully for the Canes, these adjustments were made.
The Canes came right out in the third quarter and took the opening drive to the house. They did so despite a myriad of penalties that all seemed to go against Fitzgerald. The Canes also overcame and converted a 4th and 10 situation. James Graham took a quarterback keeper 32 yards to extend the Fitzgerald lead. The score came with 5:45 left in the third quarter. Canes 28, Indians 14.
On the next Irwin County drive, the Canes forced a turnover on downs. The Canes now had the ball on their 39 yard line.
After the turnover on downs, the Canes quickly scored again. James Graham took a quarterback keeper for a gain of 38 yards. JD King took the next hand-off 24 yards for the final touchdown of the evening. King seemed to run over every member of the Indian secondary on this powerful run. The score put Fitzgerald up for good with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. Canes 35, Indians 14.
After taking the three touchdown lead, the Canes did everything that they could to run down the clock. The Canes began subbing in reserve players and ran the clock. It was apparent that the Indians would not be mounting a threat to come back in this contest. The Irwin County offense is simply not designed to get behind by three scores. Depth was an obvious issue for Irwin in the second half. Fitzgerald was able to substitute in fresh legs throughout the second half, while Irwin County was playing guys like DJ Pollard both ways.
Head Cane Jason Strickland said after the game that it was “hard fought. Give Coach Nobles and that staff a tremendous amount of credit. They did a lot of unique things that we hadn’t seen on film that caused us some problems defensively.”
He said that he was “proud of our guys settling down during the weather delay at half-time and getting back out to play some real football.”
Regarding the crowd, coach said “there was a tremendous crowd here. The atmosphere was electric. It was incredible. There were times that we were having a hard time hearing ourselves on the sidelines.” Asked why the team appeared to get out of the gates slowly, coach said that “defensively we weren’t playing well on third down and they were converting. We weren’t getting off the field. Credit those guys.
Offensively we didn’t get our tempo going because we were sitting on the sidelines. Jared Johns was causing some problems. We made some adjustments that helped us do some things to work around him.”
The Canes are off for a week. The next contest will be at Jaycee Stadium against a very good Macon County squad on September 18. I expect the game to be very competitive. Coach Strickland said that his guess is that “they will come in here as a top 5 ranked AA squad.” Macon County pushed the Hurricane last year, and I expect the same kind of close contest this year.
See you at Jaycee Stadium next Friday!
Canes defense shuts, down Braves attack, win 27-7
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
The Fitzgerald High School Purple Hurricane football team was in action Saturday night against the Heard County Braves. The venue was once again at the Mercer University football stadium.
The tone at Fitzgerald High School last week regarding this game was uneasy. How good would the 2015 Heard County Braves team be? Their sophomore quarterback Emory Jones has been offered a full ride scholarship to play college ball with emerging SEC powerhouse Mississippi State. Would this version of the Braves push Fitzgerald?
On top of all of these questions, one had to wonder how the team would perform on a late Saturday night. The Canes would travel one and a half hours to play at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
This game was Heard County’s first regular season game, and it showed. The highly touted Braves tired by the second half of this game. I’ve now had three weeks to watch the 2015 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane. These Canes are like a prized heavyweight fighter who has to fight a 15 round boxing match. They are very deliberate about landing body shots in the early rounds (the first half) so that the opponent is reeling by the later rounds (the second half). In every contest thus far, the Canes have dominated the second half. This game would be no different.
The ballgame got started late at 8:30 p.m. In a beautiful setting (Mercer University), the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane sought to maintain their undefeated record. The Canes won the coin toss and opted to defer until the second half. Fitzgerald would kick the ball off. There was no sign of the predicted rain in Macon on this Saturday night.
Raul Martinez teed the ball off to start the game. His kick was returned to the 21 yard line. The opening Heard County drive showcased the Brave shotgun (meaning the quarterback is 5 yards behind center) offense. The Braves quickly went 3 and out. 6 foot 4 quarterback Emory Jones was sacked for an 11 yard loss on the third play of the game. The Braves would have to punt. Backed up, the Braves punted the ball to their 42 yard line.
With 9:49 left in the first, the Hurricane offense went to work. After the punt, Fitzgerald had the ball at the Braves 42 yard line.
Fitzgerald ran the ball down the field quite comfortably with James Graham and JD King carrying the load. After two penalties, the Cane drive stalled and Raul Martinez entered the game for a 30 yard field goal. Martinez didn’t look particularly comfortable kicking off the artificial turn of Mercer University, and he missed the kick to give the ball back to Heard County.
The Braves went three and out yet again. The Cane defense looked dominant in this ball game.
On the second drive of the game for Fitzgerald, the Canes went back to work pounding the ball with James Graham and JD King. After moving the ball effectively, JD King took the ball right through the middle of his offensive line for a powerful 18 yard touchdown run. He eluded several tacklers as he found the end zone. The score came with 3:36 left in the first quarter. Canes 7, Braves 0.
The next drive for the Braves ended with an Emory Jones fumble. Fitzgerald pounced on the ball. The Canes would take over with the ball at the Brave 24 yard line.
The Canes went right back to work with the horses. Graham and King once again proved to be too much for Heard County. On four consecutive runs, the Canes moved the ball 24 yards. With a minute 33 seconds remaining in the first quarter, JD King bounced off of a few Braves tacklers as he took the ball in from the one yard line to extend the Cane lead. Raul Martinez shanked the extra point. Canes 13, Braves 0. Fitzgerald’s defense was dominant in the first quarter. The Braves were unable to get anything going. The Braves gained their only first down of the first quarter as time ran out in the quarter.
The second quarter of this contest started with the Braves driving. Once the Braves drive stalled, Heard County punted the ball back to Fitzgerald. The Canes received the punt at their 30 yard line.
This Canes drive featured a 36 yard run by sophomore wingback Montrell Harris. The Canes moved the ball all the way to Heard County’s 15 yard line where Stacey Lewis fumbled. Lewis’ fumble gave the ball back to the Braves.
Heard county promptly capitalized on the Hurricane turnover. Quarterback Emory Jones heaved a bomb down the left side of the field to receiver Chandler Pope. Pope broke a few tackles as he took the ball 78 yards on this impressive play. With 8:41 remaining in the second quarter, the Braves reminded the stadium that the game wasn’t over yet. Canes 13, Braves 7.
The next Canes drive stalled on the 4 yard line. Fitzgerald went for it on 4th down and wasn’t able to convert the play.
The Canes defense continued their dominance throughout the rest of the second quarter.
This first half was all Fitzgerald. The Canes gained 9 first downs compared with 3 from Heard County. The Canes outgained the Braves in yards 230 to 105. As the teams went into the locker room for half- time, everyone in the stands knew that Fitzgerald had dominated the game thus far. Coach Jason Strickland had to have been happy with his team’s performance.
The third quarter was all Purple Hurricane. Whatever the coaching staff said at half-time worked because those boys came out fired up. On the first drive of the second half, JD King took a sweep to the right for 37 happy yards. The Canes were rolling. Fitzgerald started this drive on their 23 yard line and moved the ball all the way to the end zone. The Hurricane extended the lead on this impressive 10-play drive. With 8:30 left in the third quarter James Graham faked out the Braves on an option play. Graham rumbled into the end zone for an 11 yard gain. The Canes went for two points and were unsuccessful. Canes 19, Braves 7.
The Braves did nothing with the ball and punted back to Fitzgerald. The Canes started rolling once again. Fitzgerald started their second drive of the second half from their 17 yard line. JD King took a sweep 40 yards on this inspired drive. The Hurricane had worn down the Braves and started picking up huge chucks of yardage on every play. James Graham took the ball into the end zone for another touchdown with 3:31 to go in the third quarter to extend the Cane lead. This was the second consecutive impressive drive for the Canes. Raul Martinez hit his third kickoff into the Brave end zone for a third touchback. Canes 26, Braves 7.
As the third quarter wound to an end, it became painfully obvious that the Fitzgerald defense is light years ahead of the Heard County offense. Braves quarterback Emory Jones took some punishing hits from this stout, senior-led, Fitzgerald defense.
Heading into the 4th quarter, the Cane objective was to preserve the lead, extend the lead, and kill the clock all while avoiding any injuries on the artificial turf of Mercer University. The Canes sat JD King and began feeding the ball to their wingbacks. This drive was all Marquarious Davis. The back-up wingback/fullback had several long runs on the scoring drive. Raul Martinez concluded the drive with a short 20 yard field goal. Martinez drilled the kick-off for his fourth touchback of the evening. Canes 29, Braves 7.
The Canes were able to stop the Braves and get the ball back for the offense. The back-up Cane offense came into the game.
Again, the Cane plan was to feed Marquarious Davis the ball. This young man did a fine job of running down the clock and running the ball down field. The Canes wore out the Heard County Braves and it was apparent at this junction in the game that the Braves wanted no part of tackling the Canes. Credit certainly goes to the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane coaching staff for preparing the team to compete for the entire game.
Ethan Gordan entered the ballgame and went straight to work as the Canes sought to close out the ballgame. Gordon immediately started pounding the ball. He had a very impressive 20 yard run. The Canes could have tried to add an additional score but they chose to classily pass on the opportunity. The game came to a merciful end at 29-7.
After the game, Fitzgerald Head Coach Jason Strickland said, “Defensively, I thought that they played as well as we could hope for. Our offensive line wore out their defense.”
Asked what was said at half-time, coach said that he told the team to, “calm down and execute.”
Asked why the Cane defense was so dominant this week compared with last week’s game against Worth County, coach said that, “(Worth County) they are a very good offensive football team. Also, we weren’t reading our keys.”
Coach Strickland said, “They (Canes defense) knew this kid (Heard County quarterback Emory Jones) would be dangerous. They answered the bell tonight. We certainly appreciate the crowd. It was a tremendous atmosphere.”
When asked about the border war next week, Coach Strickland said that Irwin has a “real good football team. DJ Pollard will be tough. ”There you have it. I can’t wait to watch the Canes play again this Friday night in Irwin County. As always, I expect a very competitive game against the rival Indians. We will see you in Ocilla this Friday night.
"Canes dominate 2nd half, beat Rams, 48-27"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
What a wonderful time of year — high school football season! As I headed to Jaycee Stadium Friday evening, a certain sense of excitement came across me. Actually, it was a nervous excitement. I wondered how the young Cane offense would perform. Would the Cane defense be dominant? Would the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane start out the 2015 football season with a victory? All of these questions would be answered over the course of the next few hours within the friendly confines of Jaycee Stadium.
It was a warm evening with a pleasant, gentle breeze. Jaycee Stadium was rocking and packed with fans from both schools. Worth County looked the part of a AAAA high school football team. They passed the eye test meaning that they looked big and physical. They had a huge squad of players and appeared prepared to avenge last year’s loss to the Purple Hurricane.
The Worth County Rams received the opening kick-off. The Rams drove the ball down the field on the highly touted Cane defense. The long play on this drive was a 39 yard bomb from quarterback Horace Everson to receiver Toddrick. The play set up a 30 yard field goal attempt for the Rams. The field goal was no good.
The Canes opening drive stalled and James Graham punted back to the Rams. The Rams once again drove the ball down the field thanks to some well-designed running plays. They lived on the use of misdirection.
Half the time I couldn’t tell who had the ball. With 1:51 remaining in the first quarter, Worth County lined up for a 46 yard field goal. The kick was short. The story of the first quarter was missed opportunities (2 missed field goals) and nerves (Fitzgerald appeared nervous including 2 false start penalties.)
On the Rams next possession, they broke the ice with the game’s first touchdown. Gerome Williams took the first play of the drive and made a highlight reel run that went for 50 yards. The run included a moment when Williams stiff armed a Cane safety as he galloped toward the end zone. At this moment in the ball game (12:37 to go in second quarter), the game was all Worth County. Rams 7, Canes 0.
The score remained 7-0 until the 2:35 mark of the second quarter when sophomore Cane quarterback James Graham threw a laser pass to Tae Daniel for a 35 yard touchdown strike. The play was good for 35 yards and seemed to deflate Worth County. Prior to this moment the Rams had dominated the ball game. Rams 7, Canes 7.
A moment later, the Canes took the lead on a pick-6 (interception for touchdown.) Cornerback Quae Harper converted a 55 yard interception return for touchdown with 1:05 left in the first half. This play completely changed the game because the Rams became hesitant to throw the ball. At half-time, the Canes led 14 to 7 over this tough bunch from Worth County.
Heading into the second half, the Canes would need to continue to score and find ways to slow down a very good Worth County Ram offense. The Canes came right out of half-time and set the tone for the rest of the game. The Canes first drive consisted of 11 runs for 66 yards. The drive featured 4 first downs and ended with a James Graham 6 yard touchdown scamper with 8:00 to go in the third quarter. Graham showed tremendous vision as he cut back the run and carved up the Ram defense. Canes 21, Rams 7.
Worth County methodically drove the ball on their next drive. At times it was ugly. At times they looked confused; however, the drive resulted in a 3 yard touchdown run by Chris McDaniel with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Chris McDaniel ran right behind his right tackle at the Cane left defensive end for the score. Canes 21, Rams 14.
The Canes next drive consisted of exactly 2 plays. Preseason all-state running back JD King, a junior, ran the ball 12 yards. Next, quarterback James Graham acted as if he was handing the ball off to King again. Instead, Graham kept the ball himself and just kept running. With 2:07 left in the third quarter, Graham couldn’t be stopped as he bounced off at least two would-be Ram tacklers in-route to a 56 yard statement touchdown. This kid is fast. Graham is the defending region 1AA champion in the 100 yard dash, and you can see his speed paying off out there. Canes 28, Rams 14.
Worth County quickly countered with a 41 yard touchdown pass from Gerome Williams to Chris McDaniel with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. The Rams missed the extra point. Canes 28, Rams 20.
As the third quarter came to an end, Jaycee Stadium was rocking. The band was loud and very much into the game. Fitzgerald’s offense was once again dominant. The Canes rolled down the field for a drive that gained 69 yards over 5 plays. The drive came to an end with James Graham taking another football into the end zone. With 11:20 remaining, Graham bounced into the end zone with a 11 yard gain to extend the Cane lead. Canes 35, Rams 20.
In a lengthy drive, the Rams burned a lot of clock scoring their next touchdown. The drive featured 10 runs. Eventually, Justin Hope dove the ball in for a 1 yard score with 6:47 remaining in the game. Canes 35, Rams 27.
The rest of the game was about JD King and the defense. At the 3:16 mark JD King ran the ball for 4 yards into the end zone to add to the Cane lead. Canes 41, Rams 27.
On the ensuing Ram drive, Cane defender Willie Ross ended any chance of a comeback for Worth County. Ross intercepted a Ram pass giving the ball back to the Canes.
With 52 seconds remaining in the ballgame, JD King scored one more time. This time King rumbled 49 yards for a victory sealing score. The final on this one was 48-27 in favor of the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane.
The Cane offense looked better than I expected. The Cane defense surrendered more yards than I would have expected given the number of outstanding seniors who play on the defense. Time will tell if the yardage surrendered was a result of a very good Worth County team or a defense that needs improvement. I thought the Cane special teams looked great.
The Canes take their undefeated record into Macon this Saturday night to play the highly touted Heard County Braves. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. — or 20 minutes after the preceding game — depending on a 5:30 match-up between Charlton County and Manchester. See you there!!
"Canes are impressive in Hawkinsville scrimmage"
Written by Mike Heitzman
The Herald Leader
Walking up to Jaycee Stadium, I couldn’t help but be excited about the official start of football season. There was a buzz all day at Fitzgerald High School as the students felt the same excitement. Jaycee Stadium has undergone some impressive renovations including new goal posts and new bleachers on the visitor’s side of the field. It was a Football Friday Night at Jaycee Stadium and the Hawkinsville Red Devils were in town.
This year’s Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes are anchored by a veteran defense. I was reminded of that fact when I watched to see who the captains for the Canes were; Buck Lundy and Darrius Hampton. The ballgame began with the Canes receiving the opening kickoff. The opening drive for Fitzgerald was forgettable. With 11:06 remaining in the first quarter there was a fumbled snap and the Canes surrendered the ball to the defending A public school champions, the Hawkinsville Red Devils.
The Red Devils couldn’t get anything going against the Canes first string defense all night. The Canes forced a turnover on downs and the Canes went back to work. Fitzgerald’s offense marched the ball down the field with several long runs. With 7:12 left in the first quarter, sophomore quarterback James Graham threw a jump ball to receiver Markel Hall for the Canes first score of the season. Hall made a fantastic play on the ball. The extra point from Raul Martinez landed on top of the field house! Canes 7, Red Devils 0.
The opening kickoff from senior kicker Raul Martinez landed in the end zone. I don’t recall a single kickoff last year going into the end zone. There was a great buzz in the stadium and the kickoff received an ovation from the home fans.
After forcing a Red Devil punt, the Canes moved down the field once again. This time the drive stalled and Raul Martinez was sent onto the field to attempt a 35 yard field goal at the 3:41 mark. He nailed a kick that would have been good from 40 yards. Canes 10, Red Devils 0.Martinez sent the next kick off to the 2 yard line. This time the Canes forced a fumble at the Red Devil 10 yard line. With 2:50 remaining in the first quarter Jalin Shavers rumbled into the end zone for a two yard score. Canes 17, Red Devils 0.
The stout Hurricane defense again forced a three and out. As the Cane offense came back onto the field, the guys around me were saying we may have something special here. Fitzgerald again rolled down the field. The longest play of this drive was a 23 yard run by JD King. The drive ended as the first quarter expired with James Graham bouncing into the end zone to give Fitzgerald 24 unanswered points. Canes 24, Red Devils 0.
The second quarter was much like the first. Hawkinsville managed one first down throughout the entire first half. The Cane defense was punishing and dominant. Fitzgerald added a touchdown with 10:34 by
Marquarious Davis. Davis made a very athletic 18 yard run. Canes 31-0. With 1:14 remaining in the first half, Ethan Gordon added another score. This freshman will be something to watch over the next four years. He is big. He converted a 2 yard run with 1:14 to go in the half. At halftime, the Canes lead 38-0.
The second half featured a lot of action and experience for the second, third, and fourth string players for the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane. The Canes surrendered 10 points in the half. The Canes backup quarterback Matthew Howell expanded the Canes lead with a one yard scamper. The final score of this scrimmage was 44-10.
A scrimmage is a dress rehearsal. They are designed to give coaches looks at players in real game situations. Here’s some areas I looked at closely:
• Running offense: The Fitzgerald formula is to play solid defense and run the ball all over the field. This year’s version of the Purple Hurricane should be just fine. I expect some growing pains given the fact that there are only three returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. In this scrimmage, the offense looked very impressive. JD King, James Graham, Jalin Shavers, and Stacey Lewis all look to have big seasons running the football. Freshman Ethan Gordan was very impressive throughout the scrimmage.
• Passing Offense: Sophomore James Graham made two very nice passing plays during this scrimmage. He completed the jump ball touchdown to Markel Hall in the end zone for the first Cane score of the game. Graham also completed a 19 yard wide receiver screen to newcomer Tay Daniel. I look to see huge growth in the passing offense as the year progresses. We didn’t see a huge game out of stud tight end Lecitus Smith; look for that to change as the year progresses.
• Running Defense: The Canes run defense was incredibly effective against the state champs. I watched 11 guys pursue the ball carrier on every play. My stats show that the Fitzgerald defense surrendered 30 yards (on 18 attempts) on the ground during the first half. The run defense is anchored by returning starters Buck Lundy, Darrius Hampton, Logan Sapp, Michael Wilson, Anthony Ransey, and Joshua Reliford.
• Passing Defense: Throughout the first half, the Red Devils completed one pass for a total of 5 yards. There was constant pressure in the face of the Hawkinsville quarterback. Hawkinsville did not attempt many passes. We will learn more about this group in the coming weeks.
• Special Teams: I am very excited to watch the growth and development of the Cane special teams unit. Raul Martinez was one of the MVPs of the scrimmage. Martinez was perfect on PAT attempts and he kicked two kickoffs into the end zone for automatic touchbacks. James Graham looked effective as a punter.
• Coaching: It is very obvious that the Canes are well coached. All aspects of the team looked good throughout the scrimmage, and they seem prepared to compete for a state championship again this season. This staff commands the respect of the team, and it is really paying off. I have gotten to know the coaches on this staff better throughout the offseason and think the world of these guys. We have a bunch of coaches who are teaching these players how to become young men. As a community, we couldn’t ask for a better group to lead our beloved Canes.
• Final Take: Get ready Canes fans for another exciting year! This team looks improved at special teams. The veteran defense should be dominant. Our young offense will have some growing pains, but the development of the offense should be very exciting to watch as the season progresses.
The Canes host the regular season opener against Worth County at Jaycee Stadium Friday night. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. See you there.