SANDERSVILLE, Ga. - With its school-record eighth shutout of the season, Washington County made its point in the second round of the Georgia AAA playoffs.
Other teams will have a tough time making their points against the Golden Hawks.
Washington County converted four turnovers into touchdowns and shut down Fitzgerald's newly installed wishbone offense for a 42-0 victory Friday night in the second round of the AAA playoffs.
"I was really proud of our black-shirt defense to shut them down," Washington County coach Rick Tomberlin said. "That's great defense to cause those turnovers."
Washington County (11-1) will stay at home and play Westminster next Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the House of Pain. Westminster was a 16-6 upset winner at undefeated and top-ranked Gainesville on Friday.
Stacy Walls rushed 17 times for 123 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter, which blew open a 14-0 game at halftime. Walls got loose on the left sideline, making defender Tedric Wilcox miss at the 45 and juking Jerry Taylor at the 15 to finish off the longest play of the game.
"That touchdown to open the third quarter really set the tone," Tomberlin said.
Willie Brown scored both first-half touchdowns for the Golden Hawks on runs of 2 and 4 yards. Justin Burden threw a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes of 4 and 12 yards to Chris Boss, while Dontavious Brasswell capped the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Washington County finished with 259 rushing yards, 160 in the second half.
But the story for Washington County was its "black-shirt" defense, which posted its eighth shutout of the season and limited Fitzgerald to 75 total yards - just 4 in the second half, including minus-1 on the ground.
"We set a goal at the beginning of the season to break the school record" for shutouts, said senior linebacker Eddie Merrell. "We got that beat by three, and still going."
Tomberlin said this defense ranks right with the Takeo Spikes-led 1994 defense that registered five shutouts.
"They're right there as the top two," Tomberlin said. "I'll have to look at it later to figure out which is the best. Our B-team is better now."
Fitzgerald (7-5) came into the House of Pain off a convincing 31-6 opening round victory over Northeast-Macon, and the Purple Hurricanes were looking to hand Washington County only its third home playoff loss ever under Tomberlin.
Fitzgerald held the edge in first-quarter field position - it had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked - until turnovers provided separation in what was shaping into a defensive struggle. Running back Carlos Bell lost a pair of fumbles, setting up scoring drives of 47 and 4 yards for the Golden Hawks.
Boss recovered Bell's first fumble late in the first quarter, and the momentum gave the Golden Hawks offense the kick-start it needed.
Jeremy Brown bounced off a tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage and gained 21 yards to the Fitzgerald 8 on the final play of the first quarter. On third-and-goal from the 2, Willie Brown plowed off right tackle into the end zone.
Two Fitzgerald possessions later, Bell lost the ball trying to go off the right end and it was scooped up by Eulas Taylor at the 31 and returned to the Purple Hurricanes 4. Willie Brown needed just one play to cover the rest, and a 35-yard conversion kick by Jamie Rountree made it 14-0.
Washington County outgained Fitzgerald 99-71 in the half, all the yards coming on the ground.
Walls' run open the scoring floodgates in the second half and only seemed to bolster the Washington County defensive efforts.
Another fumble recovery by Boss and a Merrell interception set up touchdown drives of 29 and 12 yards to build a 35-0 lead by the end of the third quarter and initiate the running clock as required by the GHSA's newmercy rules.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.