Class 2A blog: Season recap

Fitzgerald ends title drought; Rabun County’s Stockton smashes records; South Atlanta’s Brown leads state in rushing
Fitzgerald running back Denorris Goodwin (7) carries the ball through Thomasville’s defense in the second half of a GHSA class AA championship game Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/ For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Fitzgerald running back Denorris Goodwin (7) carries the ball through Thomasville’s defense in the second half of a GHSA class AA championship game Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/ For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

For a recap of the 2A championship, check out Episode 43 of The Class 2A Blogcast. It includes post-game interviews from coaches Tucker Pruitt (Fitzgerald) and Zach Grage (Thomasville), and Fitzgerald defensive captain EJ Lightsey.

The season ended Friday with the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane defeating Thomasville 21-7 to win their first state title since 1948.

That was the most significant story line of many for the Class 2A season. Here’s the season in review:

Fitzgerald ends title drought

For the Purple Hurricane, the wait for a ring was long but it was finally their year. When they lost to Callaway in last year’s championship, it made them 0-6 in title games since winning their only title nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

The Cane lost 20 seniors from last year’s finalists and it was unclear if they could reach the title game again in 2021. They’d be less dynamic on offense without Chance Gamble, who graduated. All they knew is they’d return a talented defense led by linebacker EJ Lightsey.

Replacing Gamble at quarterback would be Sultan Cooper, but he missed five weeks early in the season with an injury, putting any progress the offense made in the offseason on hold. The Cane would rely heavily on their defense while running out of the Wing-T almost exclusively. Senior Denorris Goodwin, who rushed for 175 yards and two scores in the championship, emerged as the teams’ workhorse running back.

That defense-plus-running recipe would carry them to a No. 2 seed, with Thomasville beating them 15-8 on Oct. 22 in a game that ultimately decided Region 1.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, the Cane were locked into their identity. They played Dodge County in the only first round matchup between top 10 teams and, in a rematch from Sept. 10, they won by the exact same score, 15-9. From there, they were road warriors and won every game by at least two touchdowns, outscoring region champions Fannin County, Putnam County, Swainsboro and Thomasville a combined 97-34.

The Cane’s defense gave up an average of eight points in the playoffs.

Their performance in the first half of the title game was nothing short of dominant. They held Thomasville to nine total yards, rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns and won time of possession 19:33 to 4:27.

The Cane finished the season 13-2.

Rabun County’s Stockton makes history

Heading into the season, Gunner Stockton was within reach of state records for career passing yards and touchdowns held by Trevor Lawrence, and combined rushing-passing yards and touchdowns by Deshaun Watson. He broke all of them except Lawrence’s passing yards, coming up just short before Rabun County lost to Thomasville in the quarterfinals.

Stockton finished his career as the state’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (177), total touchdowns (254) and total yards (18,024). His 13,652 passing yards are second only to Lawrence’s 13,902.

Stockton, who is expected to sign with Georgia, was an AJC Super 11 selection and will be in the running for Player of the Year and All State honors. He’s already been named Gatorade’s Player of the Year for Georgia.

The Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 for most of the season, finished 11-2.

South Atlanta’s Keyjaun Brown leads all rushers

For the second year in a row, the South Atlanta Hornets won Region 6, and running back Keyjaun Brown was a big reason why. Only a junior, Brown rushed for a state-leading 2,757 yards on 251 carries, adding 38 touchdowns.

The Hornets reached the quarterfinals for the first time in program history under first-year coach Michael Woolridge, which was an encore to winning their first region championship and playoff game last year. When the final polls were released, the Hornets found themselves ranked for the first time in program history, finishing No. 10 with a program-best 11-2 record.

Brown returns for his senior season and the Hornets will enter 2022 as favorites to win Region 6 again.

Bleckley County, Haralson County win 1st region titles

The Bleckley County Royals won Region 3 and the Haralson County Rebels won Region 5, making it the first region titles in program history for both schools.

The Royals’ program began in 1977 but didn’t win a playoff game until 2006. Heading into the season, they’d reached the playoffs six times since 2011 but still no region championship. When the regular season ended, they stood 10-0, with key wins coming against Dodge County (21-9), Northeast (9-6) and Washington County (28-23).

They lost to Callaway in the second round and finished 11-1, the best record in program history.

Rebels football was founded in 1968 but hadn’t done much until Scott Peavey’s second stint began in 2017. Adopting the Ugly Eagle offense, they’d make the playoffs three years in a row, a program record, before winning region and their first playoff game in program history this season.

The Rebels beat Chattooga 34-7 in the first round but lost 26-20 to Northeast in the second. They finished 10-2, tying the program record for wins.


Below are some other relevant storylines for the 2021 season.

  • The Thomasville Bulldogs reached the championship for the first time since 1993, finishing 13-2 — the most wins in a season since going 15-0 in 1988.
  • The Swainsboro Tigers (11-3) had their best finish since winning 3A in 2000. Quarterback Ty Adams returns next year for his senior season.
  • The Northeast Raiders went 9-4 and won a playoff game for the first time since 2002. They lose a lot of talent from this year’s team, most notably quarterback Travion Solomon.
  • The Putnam County War Eagles (12-1) matched a program record for wins set in 1996 and reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1994.
  • Under first-year coach Ronnie Baker, the Laney Wildcats finished 6-5 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Wildcats were coming off a 1-8 season in which recruiting violations cost them three wins and led to the ouster of their coach after just two seasons.
  • The Westside Patriots (9-3) had their best finish since 2002, winning a playoff game under second-year coach Lee Hutto.
  • Defending champions Callaway reached the semifinals for a fourth consecutive season and return a lot of talent next year.
  • Under second-year coach Greg Barnett, the Columbia Eagles went 8-4 and won a playoff game for the first time since 1997. Their eight wins were the most since 2005. Senior Marquez Harris finished in a three-way tie for the state lead in sacks with 22.
  • For the second year in a row, the Fannin County Rebels (10-2) won 10 games, a region championship and advanced in the playoffs. They’d never done any of that two years in a row before, with the program dating to 1976.
  • The Dade County Wolverines turned a corner under third-year coach Jeff Poston, finishing 7-4 after going 3-25 their previous three seasons. They reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Thanks for following the 2A coverage this season. This classification will look completely different next year after a major overhaul in reclassification, which I’ll breakdown at a later date. Check back soon for basketball coverage.

Happy Holidays!

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