Purple Hurricane win 1st title since 1948

Now fans will say Fitzgerald hasn’t won a state championship since 2021.

Thanks to a dominant first half, the Purple Hurricane ground out a 21-7 win over the Thomasville Bulldogs Friday at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium to claim the Class 2A title.

It was the Purple Hurricane’s second state championship and first since 1948. They were winless in their previous six title games and 0-3 since 2015, including last year’s loss to Callaway.

“We’ve caught a lot of flack on, ‘Can’t win the big one,’ and ‘Choke artists,’ and ‘Second place,’ so it’s nice to put all that to bed,” said Purple Hurricane coach Tucker Pruitt, who took over in 2017 after quarterbacking the team under his father, Robby Pruitt, in the early 2000s.

The Purple Hurricane (13-2) avenged their 15-8 loss to Thomasville on Oct. 22, which decided the Region 1 championship.

Fitzgerald led 21-0 at halftime. Like all season, the Purple Hurricane asserted themselves on defense and in the run game. Through two quarters, they held Thomasville to nine total yards on three three-and-out possessions while rushing 39 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns — an EJ Lightsey 2-yard run and Dennoris Goodwin runs of 6 and 12 yards — out of a single-Wing T formation.

The Purple Hurricane won first-half time of possession 19:33 to 4:27, going 5-for-7 on third down. On the two they didn’t convert, they went for it on fourth down, going 2-for-2.

“In that first half, we knew we had to get it,” said Lightsey, a senior committed to Florida as a linebacker. He finished with a season-high 11 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown and had a team-high seven tackles on defense. “We were hungry. The community had our back, and the fans helped a lot. The seniors wanted it, the team wanted it. We weren’t going to leave without this ring and we got it.”

Thomasville coach Zach Grage, who guided the Bulldogs to their first title appearance since 1993, acknowledged his team’s struggle to establish the game plan early on.

“It was difficult to get our identity going as far as running the football and trying to take shots as they came,” said Grage, who is 54-23 at Thomasville since taking over in 2016. “It was tough to get our defense off the field and we kept going three-and-out. You go back at halftime and you’re looking, and we hadn’t really even run anything.

“It was a matter of them doing a great job taking us out of our identity and us not being able to stop it.”

The Bulldogs contained Fitzgerald’s run game in the second half, holding the Purple Hurricane scoreless, but their offense continued to struggle save for one play late in the third quarter. With the Bulldogs facing third-and-6 from their own 39, Shannen White delivered a deep ball down the left sideline to an open Cole Shaw, who caught it in stride and raced untouched for a 61-yard score with 2:53 left in the third.

That would be the final points of the game and it wasn’t enough to shake Pruitt’s confidence in his team.

“We knew Thomasville was a great program, they were going to keep fighting and that we had to play 48 minutes regardless of what the scoreboard said,” Pruitt said. “Our message (after Thomasville’s touchdown) was, ‘Keep playing.’ We knew they were going to score and play well, so keep playing.”

After their score, the Bulldogs’ next possessions ended in an interception by Julian Deans, a turnover-on-downs, and an interception by Jamar Jospeh, which came with 2:38 remaining and sealed the game.

Goodwin led all rushers with 175 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. The Purple Hurricane attempted just two passes, with Sultan Cooper’s lone completion going to Jakorrian Paulk for 10 yards.

The Bulldogs (13-2) were limited to 161 yards of total offense, including just 51 yards rushing. They were led defensively by Ty Anderson, who had 13.5 tackles. Evan Wynn had 10.5 tackles and a sack.

Full stats

Fitzgerald 7 14 0 0 — 21

Thomasville 0 0 7 0 — 7

F — EJ Lightsey 2 run (Michael Martinez kick)

F — Dennoris Goodwin 6 run (Martinez kick)

F — Goodwin 12 run (Martinez kick)

T — Cole Shaw 61 pass from Shannen White (Daniel Belvin kick)

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