ROME, Ga. -- Moments after the final horn, Washington-Wilkes coach Frank Vohun stood stunned at the 30-yard line as he watched the Darlington players and fans gather at midfield, collectively holding a sign high in the air that read, "12-0."
A game that was tight all the way had literally slipped through his team's hands on two fumbles and a number of holding penalties as Darlington remained unbeaten on the year with a 7-0 win over the Tigers.
"We had every chance to score," said Vohun, still in disbelief. "But we fumbled the ball, we had holding penalties, and that's why it didn't end in better circumstances. In the end, they just wanted it more."
Washington-Wilkes tried to prove otherwise late in the fourth quarter with a final drive. Trailing by a touchdown, the Tigers (5-7) marched 57 yards for the game-tying score. Washington-Wilkes had a first down at the Darlington 18 after converting its second fourth-down conversion of the drive on a face-mask penalty. But on the next play, tailback Justin Gartrell, who led the Tigers with 85 yards on the night, fumbled and Darlington recovered at the 5-yard line.
The fumble was practically a carbon copy of a play at the end of the first half. With 1:22 left before the break, Washington-Wilkes had it at the Darlington 14-yard line, but Gartrell and quarterback Fred Dunn had trouble with the handoff. The ball squirted through the line and into the secondary where Darlington recovered at the 7-yard line.
The Darlington offense just ran out the clock after both fumbles. After the final fumble, the offense converted two first downs to end the game. Darlington now advances to the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs.
Darlington put together its first sustained drive against a stingy Washington-Wilkes defense early in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, Darlington had managed only three first downs, but got three on a drive that started at their own 23-yard line. Darlington got the ball at that spot after Washington-Wilkes came up inches short on a fourth-and-1 run by Deeko Hall.
Darlington's quarterback Robert Hortman converted two critical third-downs by scrambling out of the pocket, one for 16 yards and another for 27 to reach the Washington-Wilkes 14-yard line. Two plays later, on third-and-inches at the 5 -- with Washington Wilkes stacked on the line -- Hortman ran a play-action fake and hit wingback Jim Pardue for the game's only touchdown.
"Our defense played great the whole game," said Vohun. "We just couldn't do it offensively."
The defense came up with two big stops earlier in the second half to keep the score knotted at 0-0. Darlington blocked a punt on Washington-Wilkes opening drive and had the ball at the Tigers' 38, but Dunn (who plays free safety on defense) intercepted a pass at the 2-yard line.
Later in the quarter, Darlington had the ball back at the Tigers' 28-yard line, but on fourth-and-12, defensive lineman Jerry Brown stripped the ball from Pardue and Recardo Battle recovered for Washington-Wilkes
For the game, the Tigers' defense held Darlington to 174 yards, but only amassed 170 on the offensive end. Washington-Wilkes hurt itself with eight penalties for 65 yards -- seven in the first half alone -- including a holding penalty which erased a 33-yard run by Gartrell. His run would have put the ball at the Darlington 21; instead Washington-Wilkes ended up punting.