FITZGERALD,Ga. - Fittingly, a defensive play clinched Swainsboro's first football championship.
Tigers defensive back Brian Mason deflected a fourth-down pass with 1:51 remaining as Swainsboro held on to defeat Region 1-AAA champion Fitzgerald, 6-0, and win the Class AAA state championship at Jaycee Field on Saturday night.
"I don't mean this to sound cocky, but we deserved this," Swainsboro coach Rayvan Teague said. "We beat every good team in the state on the road. The kids did a great job and refused to go home tonight."
With Saturday's win, Swainsboro (14-1) extended its winning streak to 11 games and pulled off the remarkable task of defeating four region champs in a row on the road.
One reason for that is the Swainsboro defense, which had eight shutouts this season and allowed 5.2 points per game heading into the championship matchup. The Tigers held Fitzgerald to 98 yards of total offense and came up big when they had to.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Jonathan Moses sacked Justin McDonald on third down at the Fitzgerald 19 to set up a punt that gave Swainsboro good field position near midfield.
Down by six, Fitzgerald (13-2) got the ball one last time at its 25-yard-line with 2:14 remaining. After a pass-interference call against Swainsboro, McDonald fired three straight incompletions. On fourth-and-10, McDonald threw to an open man, but Mason knocked the ball away.
"We knew our offense could score points," junior defensive tackle Jesse Bright said. "But we were looking for a shutout anyway. That's the reason we've got the No. 1 defense in the state."
Brandon Andrews rushed for 192 yards in his final high school appearance against a Purple Hurricane defense that allowed 13.5 points per game. Andrews finished the season with 2,814 yards.
"They have a great defense with probably the best corps of linebackers we've ever faced," Andrews said. "We played probably three or four of the best defenses in the state, and I think that's what really helped out a lot."
Late in the first quarter, Swainsboro was able to break through. The Tigers drove down to the Fitzgerald 10 in seven plays and Andrews took it from there. On first down, the senior running back took the draw play up the middle, ran over to Purple Hurricane defenders outside the 5 and went in for the score to stake Swainsboro to a 6-0 lead with 1:15 left in the quarter. Cason DeVane's extra-point attempt sailed wide left.
"I was very apprehensive about that," Teague said. "Cason has been very solid all year. That's probably about the third extra point he's missed all year. He just hit it bad. But thank the Lord it didn't come back to haunt us."
A clipping penalty prevented the Tigers from extending the lead. Damien Coleman received a punt at the Swainsboro 10, broke two tackles and went 90 yards down the left sideline. However, three flags were thrown, and the penalty brought the ball to 3-yard line.
The Tigers defense held Fitzgerald to 39 total yards on 19 plays in the first half. Tyler Pruitt, the Purple Hurricanes' leading rusher, was held to 9 yards on six carries in the first half.
In the past two seasons, Teague has guided Swainsboro to a 26-2 mark.
Under first-year coach Robbie Pruitt, Fitzgerald (13-1) did an amazing turnaround from last year's 4-6 record. The Golden Hurricanes won 13 straight before Saturday's game.