SANDERSVILLE -- In a track and field jumping pit inside a stadium that no longer has a track surrounding it, a short, white picket fence surrounds a wooden tombstone and a dozen crosses.
Those white crosses, tucked behind the corner of an end zone, carry the names of defeated Washington County opponents, names like Mary Persons, Burke County and Laney, along with the final score of each win.
Sometime before Friday night’s GHSA Class AAA semifinal against Blessed Trinity, a 13th cross will be planted. The name on that cross: Pierce County, which lost 62-35 to Washington County in last week’s quarterfinals.
All of those points on those crosses add up. The top-ranked Golden Hawks (13-0) have scored 689 points this season. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website, Washington County is 18 points shy of Buford’s state record of 707 points, set last season.
The Golden Hawks will have a chance to set the record in their own stadium. A winning coin flip Sunday gave Washington County the right to host No. 3 Blessed Trinity (13-0) at the House of Pain, a place where the team hasn’t lost in two seasons.
“Playing at home means a lot to us,” Washington County quarterback AJ Gray said. “We feel we’re better off at home. I feel more comfortable.”
There was another big number put up by Washington County last week: 442. That’s how many yards Gray, a senior, ran for against Pierce County. Committed to Georgia Tech, Gray scored eight rushing touchdowns, six of which were for 40 or more yards. The yardage total is good for the No. 5 spot on the GHSFHA all-time list, and the touchdown total put him in a tie for second all-time behind the 10 scored by Calhoun’s Kenneth Moore in 1948.
According to the Georgia High School Football Daily, both the rushing and touchdown totals were state records for a quarterback.
“He had great blocking, and he’s a great athlete,” Washington County head coach Joel Ingram said. “If you give him enough room, he can take what an average player can get, a 3- or 4-yard run, and turn it into a 40-, 50-yard run.
“I’d like to take credit and say it’s coaching, but he’s just a great player.”
Gray said Washington County’s offensive line did a superb job of taking out Pierce County’s front seven, leaving him with plenty of open field to work with. Ingram, meanwhile, said Gray also took advantage of his basketball skill set, faking defenders out as if he were dribbling toward the basket.
“I was getting some great blocks from the line,” Gray said. “They were doubling the linebackers. They were well-prepared. I like what they did. They did a great job.”
Said Ingram, “He’s got a lot of God-given talent. He just follows his blockers. Sometimes I think it’s just some of the basketball coming out in him. ... He may reverse field or find a blocker. That’s like finding screens or picks or whatnot. It’s definitely a comfort having him back there, because he is so smart and he can make so many plays with his legs and throw the football.”
Ingram said the players Washington County has on the offensive line and defensive front seven aren’t the biggest out there. What the players and coaching staff do, however, is to keep things flexible.
For example, when senior middle linebacker/tight end Stacy Thompson was lost for the season with an injury sustained Sept. 12 against Veterans, others, including senior middle linebacker/fullback Antwoin Butts, stepped up.
“We’ve made it work up to this point, but every week is different; every week is a different challenge,” Ingram said. “Usually, you have a lot of linemen in a high school, usually big guys who don’t really move well. We’ll try to find a place for them and use them more against running teams and use slender guys to try to defend passing teams and more spread teams. We try to adapt what we do to our personnel instead of trying to adapt our personnel.
“We haven’t had to make too many adjustments to what we do, but we usually try to place a player or don’t make him do the things (a certain player) did. We’ll make it where what we do in our calls is tailored to what his strong suit is.”