SANDERSVILLE -- AJ Gray did it again.
The Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year put some big plays together at timely moments Friday, helping to lift top-ranked Washington County to a 28-17 win over No. 3 Blessed Trinity in the semifinals of the GHSA Class AAA playoffs.
“I feel like I’m driving a Corvette sometimes,” Washington County head coach Joel Ingram said. “I just need to keep both hands on the wheel and not mess it up. I’m just along for the ride.”
Gray’s numbers weren’t quite as eye-popping as his quarterfinal showing, when he ran for more than 400 yards and scored eight touchdowns in a 62-35 win over Pierce County. But the quarterback and defensive back made big plays when he needed to, rushing for 273 yards and three touchdowns while coming up with a key fourth-quarter interception to help put the game away.
Washington County (14-0) will face Calhoun, a 19-8 winner over Westminster-Atlanta, in the title game at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
“It was big plays,” Gray said. “We got the momentum, and we got things going.”
Blessed Trinity (13-1) entered the semifinal with a much improved resume from when the teams met in last year’s quarterfinals. The Titans started strong, taking a 10-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal by Mitchell Rostowsky and a 3-yard touchdown run by Milton Shelton that was set up by a botched Washington County punt snap.
Washington County, however, kept Blessed Trinity in check. And it only took two plays to turn things around, as Gray broke open one of his long touchdown runs, going 80 yards on a second-and-10 play.
The big run was a game-changer. After Blessed Trinity’s offensive line pushed Washington County around on the first couple of series, the Golden Hawks’ defensive front stiffened. Shelton, Blessed Trinity’s leading runner with 108 yards on 22 carries, had just 24 yards in the second half.
“It took us a minute to get used to what they were running,” Washington County tight end/defensive end Logan Hunt said. “But once we got used to it, once we started hitting them in the mouth, we did what we were supposed to do.”
Gray’s second touchdown, a 2-yarder with seven minutes to go in the second quarter, capped a 17-play, 61-yard scoring drive that gave Washington County the lead. Ethan Ray, who fell a yard shy of the 100-yard mark on 17 carries, scored from 14 yards out with 1:07 to go until halftime to give the Golden Hawks the 11-point cushion it had the rest of the way.
There were a couple of change-of-pace situations in the second half that kept the game interesting.
Gray scored his final touchdown, a 35-yard run, with 2:34 to go in the third quarter to put Washington County up 28-10. On Blessed Trinity’s first play following the Gray score, the Titans’ Pat Jasinski, a tight end/linebacker who has committed to Central Florida, hauled in a pass from Conor Davis that went for a 70-yard touchdown.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Blessed Trinity wound up with the ball near midfield following Matthew Higgins’ 52-yard interception return that he picked off at the Titans’ 1. Two plays later, however, Davis threw up a ball that went nowhere near a Blessed Trinity receiver, and Gray picked off the pass to effectively seal the win.
The two plays following Higgins’ interception return were Blessed Trinity’s only two plays of the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t panic,” Ingram said. “I’m proud of these kids. We came back from a 10-point deficit, found the sense of urgency and battled. That has a lot to do with our age and our experience.”