SANDERSVILLE, Ga. — Joel Ingram started grumbling, but soon caught himself.
His team had only four first downs in the second half and couldn’t manage a point.
“I’m very, very disappointed in our offense,” the Washington County head coach said. “We talk all the time about playing to a certain standard.”
Of course, the first half was very much a different story as undefeated Washington County took control early for a 37-0 win Friday night over Ringgold in a Class AAA semifinal game at the House of Pain.
After bemoaning the fact that his team was sluggish, if not drowsy, in the second half, he changed his tune.
“I’m has happy as a lark,” he said. “I’ve been so spoiled by these guys.
“You’d think I’d just shut my mouth. I’m going to shut my mouth.”
Melvin Hill had 117 yards rushing and added a 99-yard punt return, while the Washington County defense stuffed Ringgold’s similar read-option offense, holding the Tigers to 95 yards.
“I thought defensively, we played great football,” he said. “We were tough against the run, we were tough against the pass. Everything they did, I thought we shut the door on them.”
And, of course, Ingram remembered what’s next.
“God, we won 37-0,” he said. “And we’re playing for a state championship.”
Washington County takes on Buford – a 24-14 winner over Callaway – at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the Georgia Dome.
Ringgold quarterback Slade Dale wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent, thanks to a grade 2 MCL sprain suffered last week, and it showed. He managed just 31 rushing and 23 passing yards.
“He had a brace on, and was very limited,” Ringgold head coach Robert Akins said. “There was a conversation about not playing him in the second half, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with that.
“He was gimpy, and he’s a third of our rushing offense, and without your most valuable player, it’s hard to score.”
Dale didn’t have much time to do much of anything.
“We see it every day in practice,” Washington County defensive end Logan Hunt said of Ringgold’s offense, similar to Washington County’s. “We were equipped to play against that type of offense.”
Hill got the barrage going on Washington County’s second possession with a 59-yard touchdown, A.J. Gray passing to D.J. Sanders for two.
That connection hooked up again very soon. Ringgold’s third punt on three possessions followed, and Gray threw a strike to Sanders deep down the middle for a 69-yard touchdown. Jed May’s kick made it 15-0 with 4:24 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers kept the Golden Hawks at bay for a little while, in part because Ingram went – he admitted later many fourth-down decisions were too aggressive – for some fourth downs and didn’t convert.
That changed when Hill took a handoff, was hit and spun away, hit again and spun away again, and bounced outside for a 14-yard touchdown, Gray completing another conversion pass.
Ringgold got a nice roll on the next punt, and Hill fielded the bouncing ball at the one. And not unlike a college field goal run back almost a week earlier, he cruised down the right sideline for the 99-yard touchdown.
“I knew we had a wall set up,” Hill said. “I just trusted my wall and ran behind it.”
The Golden Hawks added to the 30-0 lead after Gray’s interception. The Golden Hawks went 59 yards, aided by three Ringgold penalties, with Danyale Wicker going in from the 2 with 15 seconds left in the half.
With Dale not healthy and the Golden Hawks defense on point, the second half bore little resemblance to the first. Washington County punted twice and turned it over on downs twice, only the backups managing some first downs on the game-ending drive.
Being awake in the second half won’t be an issue in Washington County’s next game.
“We played hard,” Ingram said. “I just wanted to finish stronger. I need to shut up and enjoy it and take in the moment.”