Impressive debut: FPD blows past Irwin County in Vikings’ GHSA opener

FPD’s coaches and players felt nerves they’ve never known Thursday night. For really the first time in school history, the FPD football team entered the world of the unknown when it played Irwin County in the season opener for both teams.

The anxiety went away quickly.

FPD jumped out to a 13-0 first-half lead and held off Irwin County in a 26-8 win Thursday in front of a packed crowd at George S. Johnson Stadium in its first game in the GHSA.

“This is huge,” FPD junior Ben DuBose said. “I was nervous all week. There were a whole lot of people out there questioning our move, talking down about us. I think we silenced some naysayers.”

FPD head coach Greg Moore said after the game that it was a historic night for the school. GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin attended the game.

“We just found out we’re in for a fun football season,” Moore said.

Clay Martin’s 7-yard touchdown run with 6:40 left to play in the game iced the victory for the Vikings, who were making their GHSA debut after nearly 40 years in the GISA. DuBose added a 65-yard touchdown late to provide even more separation.

The Vikings’ defense stymied Irwin County for a half and their special teams took over to build a lead. Coupled with a trick play, the special teams helped account for the Vikings’ 13-0 halftime lead.

Murray Ricketson made field goals of 30 and 42 yards, with the latter coming with only two seconds to play in the first half.

In between the two field goals, FPD scored a touchdown on a 15-yard halfback pass from Wesley Gilbert to Jonathan Millwood.

“My guy bit on the run, and I took two steps and just saw ball,” Millwood said.

The FPD defense held Irwin County to 36 yards of total offense and two first downs in the first half.

And FPD’s halftime lead could have been larger, but the Vikings struggled finishing off drives. A holding call negated a touchdown on their first drive and a fumble later forced a field goal attempt.

Martin threw an interception in the end zone on the next drive.

“That just means we found some things we can work on,” Moore said. “We celebrate this (Thursday night) and go back to work.”

The start of the second half, however, barely resembled the first.

The Indians were the aggressor on offense, while FPD struggled to move the ball and accounted for 21 yards in the third quarter.

Irwin County stole FPD’s halftime momentum with a 10-play touchdown drive on its opening possession of the second half. The Indians more than tripled their first-half yardage on the 70-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge by Bernard Baker. The ensuing two-point conversion pulled Irwin County to within five points.

“They just took it right to us,” DuBose said. “They came out with the momentum and took it to us.”

But the Vikings took over again right after that.

The Vikings stopped a fake punt and tackled the Irwin County punter on another possession to pick up great field position and flip the field.

After tackling the Irwin County punter at the start of the fourth quarter, FPD marched in from its opponent’s 20-yard line for an eventual touchdown run by Martin, who flattened a defender as he crossed the goal line to give FPD breathing room and a two-score lead at 19-8 with 6:40 to play in the game.

The FPD defense intercepted Irwin County quarterback Joequan Riley on the next possession, and DuBose raced for a 65-yard touchdown play on the next play.