It’s not often that two ranked teams from different parts of the state get to play early in the season.
But that’s exactly what happened Saturday at Mercer University Stadium as the two GHSA Class AA teams battled to the end, with seventh-ranked Fitzgerald outlasting third-ranked Heard County 43-27.
Converted quarterback Gerald Morgan, who started the past two years for the Purple Hurricane at safety, ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more to lead the way.
“I went to him before the season started and asked him if he would be willing to move to quarterback, and that might have been the best decision I have ever made as a coach," Fitzgerald head coach Jason Strickland said. “He works hard every day and is giving us what we need to be successful. I think he will just continue to get better the more he plays at that position. I mean, the guy was an all-region defensive back, but he was willing to do whatever he had to do to help the team.”
Heard County also has a quality backfield, led by senior running back Duranta Dunson, who ended the game with 260 yards on 25 carries. He gave the Braves an early lead in the first quarter when he scored from 29 yards out. But the Purple Hurricane were able to get it right back. Taking advantage of a poor punt, they moved 17 yards in five plays, with Morgan taking it in from a yard out to tie it at 7 at the end of the first quarter.
Heard County quickly answered in the second quarter, with freshman quarterback Emory Jones connecting with Diamond Delgado for 79 yards and a score to give the Braves the lead. But minutes later, Morgan came right back and hit Trey Graham for a 34-yard score.
The big moment of the first half happened in the final minute. With Heard County driving for the go-ahead score, Daniel Rivera stepped in front of a Jones pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for the score to put the Purple Hurricanes up 21-14.
The second half was a track meet, with Morgan throwing another touchdown pass to Graham and running for two more scores. Despite another touchdown pass from Jones and a long touchdown run by Dunson, the Braves came no closer than one score, and the Hurricanes walked off with an impressive win.
“I told the kids we didn’t have to go out and win a state championship (Saturday), and that’s exactly how we played it,” Strickland said. “I would much rather be fussing about all the things we need to improve on after a win than a loss. Heard County has a great football team, and it was a battle of two of the best teams in AA. We are happy with the win, but we know we have a long way to go as a football team.”