Football people will say defense wins championships and the Putnam County Middle School War Eagles proved that last Wednesday in defeating border rival Morgan County Bulldogs 8-0 in a hard fought, hardnosed battle at Al Reaves Field for the coveted Piedmont Athletic Association state championship trophy.
It was a dubious start for Putnam as quarterback Brixton Woodall threw an interception on the game’s very first play. The Bulldogs got the football at the War Eagles 28-yard line and drove to the 6-yard line courtesy of an 18-yard gain on a jet sweep left.
A holding penalty set Morgan back to the 24-yard marker and a loss of three yards on a dive play gave Morgan a fourth and 10 with 5:21 left in the first quarter. Trying another jet sweep, this time to the right, went nowhere when the War Eagle defense stuffed the play and got the ball back on downs at their own 27-yard line.
Rashod Daniel was stopped for no gain on first down, bringing up a second and 10 with 4:13 showing on the clock. Taking the snap, Woodall took a five step drop and fired downfield to a streaking Jason Evans on a post route at the Bulldog 40-yard line. The pass was wobbly and Evans had to come back to the football at the 44-yard line, made the catch and broke the tackle of the defender at the point of reception.
Gaining speed, Evans out ran four Morgan County defenders to the end zone for the score and a 6-0 edge. The two-point conversion was successful for an 8-0 War Eagle advantage.
Little did anyone think that would be the only score of the game.
“If you had told me we were going to score a touchdown on our second possession and win the ballgame 8-0 against a great Morgan County team, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said an ecstatic Putnam coach Alex Banks. “Our player’s effort epitomized who they have been all year long. Even going back to the start of the season when we almost didn’t have enough players to practice, we kept building and we kept coming. We didn’t know if we were going to have a season. This game was not won [tonight]. This game was won last year in a loss to Loganville on the road. The guys came back, they kept their focus and remembered what happened up there and they kept fighting.”
And fighting would become the operative word on this day. At the start of the second period, Morgan had the ball and had driven from their own 15-yard line to the War Eagles 38-yard line. On third down, Shockey Ford II broke through the line and made a big hit, tackling the runner for a 5-yard loss bring up a punting situation. The punt rolled to the Putnam 24. A 12-yard run, a penalty, a sack, two more penalties and an incomplete pass brought up fourth down.
Taking the punt snap, Woodall stepped right into the middle of rushers and had his kick blocked hard and Morgan set up shop at the Putnam 10-yard line. Up rose the defense. Daniel put a big lick on the running back for a 1-yard gain. A jet sweep was stopped for another 1-yard gain on a punishing hit by Mark Watkins II. Blake Tiller II had a 5-yard tackle for a loss and on fourth down at the Putnam 5-yard line, an off sides penalty and a gang tackle on fourth stopped the Bulldog drive cold at the 5-yard line.
“I told the defense Morgan made a play when they blocked that punt but it didn’t result in anything for them,” said Banks. “We got a chance to stop them and we did. We got the opportunity to get the offense back on the field and after that big stop inside the 5 [yard line] after they blocked the punt, they started to believe.”
The third quarter was all about defense for both teams. With 1:42 to go before the fourth quarter, Putnam fumbled and Morgan County took over at the Putnam 45-yard line. With the clock running out, the Bulldogs had two runs for 33 yards and were in business at the War Eagle 12-yard line at the start of the fourth and final quarter.
On second down, Woodall knifed in for a big hit, stopping the run at the Putnam 3-yard line. On third and goal, a brick wall met the Morgan quarterback and dropped him at the War Eagle 1-foot line bringing up fourth and goal with 6:16 to play.
Morgan tried to draw Putnam off sides with a hard count but the War Eagles stood firm. Morgan called two consecutive timeouts. Lining up in a power I-formation, Morgan ran their big back between right guard and right tackle was stoned at the point of impact for no gain. A holding penalty took the wind out of the Bulldog sail as Putnam’s proud and fierce defense held again.
On Morgan’s final possession, an interception at the War Eagle 34-yard line ended the hopes of Morgan as Putnam drove the final 2:46 to secure the win and the coveted state championship.
‘They were in the red zone at least four times and we stopped them every time,” exclaimed Banks. “Toughness and grit is why we were able to stop them. Heart and toughness showed when we had our backs against the wall. We didn’t have a shutout all year but we got one at the right time.
‘I want to thank my coaches for the great job they have done this season with the kids. God be all the glory for what we have done this season. We are truly blessed.”