ATLANTA -- There are tapes of games that go in trophy cases, copies that go in a file to learn from, and ones that get torched.
Washington County might choose the latter depiction of the biggest game of the season.
The Golden Hawks avoided mistakes all season but couldn’t do that at the most crucial time, and Calhoun took advantage.
A slew of 5-yard penalties combined with a stellar Calhoun defense paved the way for the Yellow Jackets to top the Golden Hawks 27-20 on Friday night in the GHSA Class AAA title game at the Georgia Dome. Calhoun finishes 15-0 and Washington County 14-1.
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Washington County head coach Joel Ingram emerged from a stunned locker room a bit floored as to what had transpired.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We played as mistake-ridden football as we ever could have possibly played. It’s just real disappointing it happened at this point.
“At the end of the day, we made too many mistakes, and we didn’t make enough plays.”
The Golden Hawks were flagged 10 times for 50 yards, hurting themselves with numerous pre-snap penalties, some of which nullified quality plays. A change in the snap count led to a number of the flags.
“We tried to tweak it just a hair; we didn’t handle it well,” Ingram said. “Had guys not even lining up right in the formation and not having enough men on the line of scrimmage.
“That’s stuff we’ve done from day one.”
Washington County outgained Calhoun 218-190 on the ground but struggled through the air. AJ Gray completed 12-of-24 for 142 yards while Calhoun’s Kaelan Riley was 11-of-22 for 164. Gray ran for 122 yards to Riley’s 61, but Gray lost 29 yards along the way to 17 for Riley.
Gray ended up with two rushing touchdowns and 264 yards in total offense, and Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb was more than satisfied.
“Our plan was to let him throw it,” Lamb said. “He’s much better when he runs it. He’s a great thrower, but we wanted him to beat us with his arm.
“He was not comfortable doing that, and I think our defense had a great game plan.”
Should the Golden Hawks watch the video, they’ll see opportunities erased by mistakes, making it that much tougher to come back against a team that won a state title in 2011.
A prime example was a fourth-quarter possession that began at the 1 because of an ill-advised kickoff return catch at the sideline. The Golden Hawks were then flagged four times with one being declined, sending the ball back to Calhoun at the Washington County 47 with 6:33 remaining in the game.
Calhoun punted with 4:25 left, and Washington County started on its 15. An illegal receiver downfield nullified a 12-yard gain and first down. Gray followed it with a dazzling 19-yard run.
But after two incompletions and a scramble, Gray was caught from behind short of the first down, and Calhoun took over on Washington County’s 49 with two minutes left and the seven-point lead.
Calhoun took the lead early in the third quarter after a poor or partially blocked punt traveled only 15 yards. The Yellow Jackets got the ball on the Golden Hawks’ 39 and scored five plays later, with Riley keeping the ball for 18 yards.
But the Yellow Jackets missed the point-after kick and led 20-17 with 8:40 left in the third.
The Golden Hawks moved and then bogged down but tied the score on Wesley Ruberia’s 29-yard field goal at the 3:13 mark.
Two penalties forced Calhoun to punt from inside its 1, and the Golden Hawks had the ball at the Yellow Jackets’ 33.
But Darius Tucker lost the ball fighting for yardage, and Calhoun survived bad field position.
Gray came up with an interception deep in Washington County territory but was ruled out of bounds. Replays showed it was the wrong call. It was just another momentum play.
“Insane, ridiculous,” Ingram said. “The momentum shift (when) we fumbled the ball. A momentum shift when it’s first-and-20. You can’t win like that.”
The Yellow Jackets then converted a third-and-17 on the next play after Gray’s nullified interception, setting up the game-winner on a double-reverse pass. Baylon Spector’s pass finally made it to Carson Brown, and Gray couldn’t get to him in time to stop the 40-yard score.
Juan Palmerin’s kick put the Yellow Jackets ahead 27-20 with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter. Then Tucker went out at the 1 fielding the kickoff. The Golden Hawks improved their field position only to punt.
The game went back and fourth in the first half, and the Golden Hawks took a 17-14 lead at halftime thanks to Wesley Ruberia’s 24-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.
“They know that we didn’t play our ... we made too many mistakes (Friday),” Ingram said. “We played very hard. Our kids always give great effort, just a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes.”
CALHOUN 27, WASHINGTON COUNTY 20
Washington County 7-10-3-0--20
WC -- AJ Gray 8 run (Wesley Ruberia kick)
C -- Cole Jackson 7 pass from Kaelan Riley (Alex Flores kick)
WC -- Gray 1 run (Ruberia kick)
C -- Olico Dennis 19 run (Flores kick)
WC -- Ruberia 24 field goal
C -- Riley 18 run (Flores kick)
WC -- Ruberia 29 field goal
C -- Carson Brown 40 pass from Baylon Spector (Juan Palmerin kick)
First downs 20 19
Rushes-yards 31-190 47-218
Passing yards 204 142
Comp-Att-Int 12-23-0 12-24-0
Fumbles-Fumbles lost 1-0 1-1
RUSHING -- Calhoun: Cole Jackson 12-97, Riley 16-61; Washington County: Gray 29-122, Ethan Ray 10-77, Darius Tucker 5-9, Justin Lawrence 2-7.
PASSING -- Calhoun: Riley 11-22-0 164; Washington County: Gray 12-24-0 142.
RECEIVING -- Calhoun: Thomas Lester 4-61, Carson Brown 3-78, Chazz Moss 3-43, Jackson 2-22.; Washington County: Jaquavious Latimer 5-45, Antonio Jackson 4-51, Logan Hunt 2-31.