WASHINGTON, Ga. – Even though it won’t be official for at least two weeks, Washington-Wilkes celebrated like Region 8-AA champs on Friday night.
The Tigers routed Rabun County 52-7 to eliminate the last significant threat and all but clinch Washington-Wilkes’ first region title since 2006. The Tigers remaining two opponents – Oglethorpe County and Social Circle – have only one win between them, that coming in a game against each other.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Tigers head coach Robby Robinson. “Coming in here we wanted to turn this program back to what it was and our guys have done a great job.”
Despite top offensive weapons Quay Blackburn and Jalen Turner both going out with sprained ankles, the Washington-Wilkes offense didn’t skip a beat against the one-loss Wildcats. Sophomore running back Javoris Grant stepped in and rushed six times for 139 yards, including breakway touchdowns of 76 and 51 yards.
Grant’s 76-yarder came on the play immediately after Blackburn was helped off the field, giving the Tigers a 19-0 lead in the second quarter.
“We’ve got a stable of tailbacks that we can roll in there, so we’ll be in good shape,” said Robinson, whose Tigers have a much-needed off week to heal before playing host to Oglethorpe. “We’ve got to get them healthy for the playoffs.”
Washington-Wilkes (8-0, 5-0 8-AA) seemed to salt things away with a perfect 39-yard strike from DeAndre Harris to Turner with 22 seconds left before halftime to make it 26-0.
But Robinson elected to kick a squib to the left side and the Tigers neglected to cover that lane. Rabun County’s Charlie Woerner scooped it up and ran 61 yards before finally getting tackled at the Washington-Wilkes 13. Two plays later, Wes Holcombe hit Jordan Oliver for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 26-7 as the halftime clock expired.
That didn’t hurt so much as the Tigers converted four turnovers into touchdowns in the second half, including a school-record 103-yard interception return by Treyvon Booker after the game clock hit 0:00.
That exclamation point came after a bit of coaching brinksmanship. Rabun County coach Lee Shaw called timeout with two seconds left inside the Tigers’ red zone to try to get one more half-ending score.
On the previous possession, Robinson had left starter Harris in at quarterback to rush 24 yards on a fourth down to the Wildcats’ 7. Two plays later, reserve Bradley Jefferson scored on a quarterback keeper to make it 46-7 with 3:54 left.
Washington-Wilkes piled up 515 total offensive yards – 380 rushing and 135 passing.
Rabun (5-2, 2-2 Region 8-AA) came into Tiger Stadium averaging 48.5 points per game and nearly 500 yards per game, seeking their second region championship in school history and first since 1998, when they won a school-best 11 games.
The Wildcats’ only loss came in overtime last week, 26-20, to defending state champion Jefferson after letting a touchdown lead slip late in the fourth quarter – despite forcing the Dragons into four second-half turnovers.
Like the Tigers, Rabun County has shed a run of disappointing form. The Wildcats lost in the first round of the 2012 Class AA playoffs after a string of six consecutive losing seasons, including four consecutive one-win campaigns from 2007-10.
Until last year, the Rabun County Wildcats hadn’t had a winning season since 2000.
Washington-Wilkes beat the Wildcats 41-12 last season.