Fitzgerald fails on first state title since 1948

ATLANTA – Fitzgerald tried but could not win its first football championship since 1948, as Pace Academy rolled up 471 yards of offense in a 42-21 loss against the Knights Saturday in the class AA title game in the Georgia Dome.  Fitzgerald finished the year with a 13-2 record, while Pace Academy finished with an identical 13-2 record as the number four seed from region six. Pace had 323 yards rushing on the afternoon.

Coach Jason Strickland addresses his Hurricane family after the AA State Championship Game. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

Coach Jason Strickland addresses his Hurricane family after the AA State Championship Game. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

“Disappointed…(but) glad with how our guys competed,” Fitzgerald head coach Jason Strickland told the media after the game. “We were concerned all week about their physical size on the line of scrimmage, and it showed up tonight. Credit to coach (Chris) Slade and those guys…they put a great game plan together. Pound the line of scrimmage and just wore us down.”

The Knights led 21-7 at the half and after JD King and James Graham marched Fitzgerald down the field after a Pace turnover to a score. The Hurricane only trailed by a touchdown with 2:06 left in the third quarter. King scored on a two yard run on a drive in which King, Graham and Jalin Shavers did all of the work on the 10 play, 68-yard drive.

Team Shoultz signs were present is several places as Fitzgerald took the field. Coach Shoultz is recovering from a heart attack, and missed the contest. Photo: Danielle Bundrick/SGSN

Team Shoultz signs were present is several places as Fitzgerald took the field. Coach Shoultz is recovering from a heart attack, and missed the contest. Photo: Danielle Bundrick/SGSN

Pace scored a touchdown on their next possession when Gunnor Faulk hit Jackson on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 10:34 remaining in the game. The Hurricane answered back when Graham hit Montrell Harris on a seam route from 41 yards out to pull to within seven after the PAT from Martinez. Harris ran for 31 yards on the drive as well as the touchdown catch. It would be the lone completed pass for the Purple Hurricane.

The Knights would answer with the game’s final two touchdowns, however, as the private school from Atlanta would not be denied. First, it was a Jackson four yard run with 5:18 to play and then after forcing a four and out on the Hurricane, Pace would go the remaining 24 yards that ended on a Realus George 1-yard plunge with just over two minutes left in the game.

Pace Academy jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Deon Jackson ran in from 35 yards out with just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Samuel Sloman’s added the extra point. The drive went only three plays and covered 52 yards. Quarterback Faulk hit Trey Blount for a 12-yard completion on second a five.

Montrell Harris scores with 9:22 to play. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

Montrell Harris scores with 9:22 to play. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

The Hurricane came back with a touchdown of their own on their next drive. From their own 20, Harris rushed for one, then quarterback Graham went for five and Shavers picked up the first down on a third and two. King went for six and Graham followed up with six more to give Fitzgerald a first down at their own 45. Harris rushed for 19 yards and King and Graham marched off back-to-back eight yard runs to give Fitzgerald a second down at the 25 of the Knights. From there, and with a second down, Graham scooted around left end and dived in for the Hurricane touchdown from eight yards out. Raul Martinez added the PAT to tie the score at seven with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter. The drive lasted fourteen plays and went 80 yards.

Pace Academy put together a long drive to answer Fitzgerald’s score on their next possession.  The drive went 80 yards on 11 plays. Faulk threw for 28 yards on the drive, which ended after a Realus George 1-yard run. Faulk hit Jack Walsh on a 13 yard pass play to set up the score and the Knights led 14-7 with 3:36 remaining in the first half.

The backbreaker came on the last drive of the half for the Knights. Pace drove 62 yards on five plays in just 38 seconds and scored on a Faulk to Spencer Hemmingway 16-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave the Knights a 21-7 lead with three seconds left in the first half.CT5A8032

Pace was nearly perfect, despite two turnovers. The Knights did not punt and Faulk went 13-of-15 for 148 yards and a touchdown. Jackson added 113 yards for Pace Academy. Fitzgerald was led by Graham as the sophomore QB ran 17 times for 100 yards. King, the Hurricane 2,377 yard rusher, was held to 55 yards on 18 attempts.

The future is bright for Fitzgerald, who will return all 11 starters on an already potent offense, including King and Graham.

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