AMERICUS, Ga. - Three prestigious records might have fallen in the Class AA state championship game. But if you ask Washington-Wilkes fans, Saturday was the night they felt they were cheated out of a title.
On a rain-soaked field that looked more like a hog pen by the time the game ended, Americus celebrated its first state championship since 1975 with a 14-0 victory over Washington-Wilkes in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Finklea-Robinson Stadium.
Washington-Wilkes fullback Daccus Turman finished with 23 carries for 140 yards rushing in the game, giving the senior 3,172 yards rushing this season. He broke Herschel Walker's state single-season rushing record of 3,167 yards.
Americus quarterback Robert Johnson broke the state's all-time passing record, finishing with 242 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, junior wide receiver John Harris broke the Stan Rome's 29-year-old single-season yardage record.
But none of that mattered to Washington-Wilkes, which believed its team played well enough to win despite the sloppy field conditions.
Late in the fourth quarter, Johnson intercepted Keidric Hall's pass at his own 2-yard line. Washington-Wilkes forced the Panthers to punt after three downs.
But on the punt, a partially blocked kick by Washington-Wilkes was ruled a fumble, with the Panthers recovering at their own 15. Tiger coaches said they believed their team never touched the ball after the blocked punt, but game officials said the ball hit a Washington-Wilkes player in the back.
The Panthers (15-0) took over at their own 15. After a penalty moved Americus back to its 3-yard line, Johnson hit Leonard Davis down the sideline for a 97-yard touchdown pass two plays later to make it 14-0 with 7:09 left in the game.
"They said we blocked it, then touched it; I don't know if we did or not," Washington-Wilkes coach Frank Vohun said after the game. "I guess we'll find out on film. I know I didn't like a lot of the stuff that went on out there. There ain't nothing you can do; they beat us."
The two teams slid around in the mud until late in the third. Johnson engineered an impressive 13-play, 86-yard scoring drive, hooking up with Leonard Pope on a 3-yard touchdown pass and for the first score of the game and a 7-0 lead.
The Americus quarterback took the game into his own hands on the drive, converting two key third-down conversions, including a 24-yard gallop on third-and-13 from his own 46 to give the Panthers the first down.
Washington-Wilkes had its chances, but never could get in the end zone.
"I guess this was the first time coming in a long time, and everybody had jitters," sophomore running back Herman Wynn said. "We had missed opportunities, but everybody played hard. We had to play against the officials too."
The Tigers (14-1) had several opportunities to score, especially in the first half. After an interception at the Americus 42-yard line by Antonio Mahoney, the Tigers marched 34 yards in eight plays.
However, on fourth-and-3 from the Panthers 8-yard line. Washington-Wilkes coaches elected to gamble on fourth down instead of attempting a short field goal on the rain-soaked turf.
Hall ran out of the pocket, then spotted Wynn on the left flat. The soft pass sailed over Wynn's head, which likely would have been a touchdown had the Tigers converted the play successfully.
That play wasn't the only close one. With 3:23 left in the second quarter, Hall hit Turman on a short screen pass on the right sideline. The senior caught the ball, reversed his footing and dashed 55 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown.
But officials ruled Washington-Wilkes had an illegal man downfield and nullified the touchdown.
"The breaks may have not have went our way, but we still had to play hard," said Washington-Wilkes senior wide receiver Fred Dunn. "We made a lot of mistakes, jumping offsides and stuff. But there's nothing we can do now; you just have to forget it."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.