SANDERSVILLE -- There are very few times when Washington County scores fewer than 30 points in a football game.
The Golden Hawks, who average 51.2 points per contest, were last held to fewer than 30 in last year’s GHSA Class AAA title game, when they lost 35-19 to Buford. And it has been two years -- the second round of the 2012 playoffs -- since Washington County didn’t reach 30 yet still won.
In Friday night’s Class AAA semifinal against Blessed Trinity, there was no need to reach 30. Washington County won 28-17, scoring just one touchdown in the second half.
The reason? Washington County was trying to shorten the game through short-to-medium run plays that bled time off the clock.
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“The communication on the sideline between players and coaches was phenomenal,” head coach Joel Ingram said. “At this time of year, we have got to be able to run the football, and that was the difference in the game, was our ability to run the football.”
The win set up Washington County’s first meeting with Calhoun, a team from northwest Georgia that has won 10 or more games in each of the past 14 seasons under head coach Hal Lamb, for the Class AAA championship at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at the Georgia Dome.
Washington County’s high-powered offense, fueled by Georgia Tech-bound quarterback AJ Gray, the Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year, didn’t need to score a lot of points. Not when the Golden Hawks’ offense was enjoying success in keeping Blessed Trinity’s offense off the field.
Time of possession became a big factor in the second half. Washington County held onto the ball for more than 20 minutes, giving Blessed Trinity’s offense just 3:52 in which to attempt a rally.
Even more impressive: Washington County held Blessed Trinity to just two plays in the fourth quarter, plays that followed Gray’s only real mistake of the night offensively, an interception with 7:24 remaining. Gray made amends on defense 15 seconds later by picking off Blessed Trinity’s Conor Davis, and Washington County ran out the clock with a 13-play drive.
Despite Washington County’s ball-control focus, Gray still put up some big numbers. He finished with 273 rushing yards and three touchdowns, with 151 of those yards coming in the second half.
Ethan Ray helped carry the load for Washington County, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown as he played a key role in the Golden Hawks’ bid to shorten the game.
“We had some running backs who did some good things,” Ingram said. “We have an undersized, unheralded offensive line that got it done.”
Part of Blessed Trinity’s inability to get anything started in the second half was due to the Titans’ timeout situation. They burned two in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, taking away their ability to stop the clock in the closing minutes.
Blessed Trinity’s only sustained drive of the second half was the Titans’ initial series, an eight-play, 30-yard series that concluded with an 8-yard quick kick by Davis on a fourth-and-3 play at Washington County’s 45.
Davis connected with Central Florida-bound Pat Jasinski on a 70-yard scoring pass late in the third quarter, but all that did was bring Washington County’s lead back down to 11 after Gray scored his third and final touchdown, a 35-yard run on a fourth-and-3 play with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter.