The Valdosta Daily Times
The Brooks County Trojans haven’t forgotten last year’s game against Fitzgerald.
It’s hard to forget a 39-0 loss, particularly when you’re playing for the region title on your home field.
But that was last year. Plenty has changed for both teams. But the stakes of the game remain the same.
Last year’s game decided the Region 1-AA championship. There’s a real good chance this year’s game will also decide who gets the Region 1-AA trophy at the end of the season.
Brooks enters the game 6-0 and ranked second in AA. Fitzgerald is 5-1 and ranked fourth. Both teams are 2-0 in region play.
“In my mind, it’s a huge game, possibly for the region title,” Brooks County head coach Maurice Freeman said. “Two pretty good football teams, both ranked in the state. You can’t ask for anything better. And it’s a home game for us, so that helps.”
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Quitman’s Veterans Stadium.
In 2011, Fitzgerald wrapped up the Region 1-AA title with a 39-0 win over Brooks at Veterans Stadium.
The Purple Hurricanes’ offense put on a clinic on how to run the wing-T that night. They compiled 463 yards of total offense, and fullback Tolerance Shepherd ran for 272 yards. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald’s defense limited Brooks to just 56 yards.
“It didn’t turn out too well last year,” Freeman admitted. “Hopefully the guys are focused and ready to play this time. We’ve been showing the tape from last year all week. That’s certainly an incentive there, and it’s a wake-up call. I think they’re prepared and ready to play. ... We definitely have not forgotten about that.”
But a number of things have changed at Fitzgerald since then. Kaleb Nobles, the team’s star quarterback, is now a Valdosta State Blazer. Shepherd has graduated. And perhaps most importantly, Robby Pruitt, the Purple Hurricanes’ longtime coach, left Fitzgerald after the season to become the head coach at Coffee.
“They’re still pretty good,” Freeman said. “They’ve got a new fullback. He runs hard. The quarterback was a receiver from last year. He’s very elusive, shows a lot of promise as far as running the ball and he’s thrown some passes. He makes me nervous. We’ve got to get our hands on him early.”
Jason Strickland is now the Purple Hurricanes’ head coach. Strickland, who went 12-1 at Lamar County a year ago, also runs the wing-T, but it’s a slightly different version.
“They’re a power wing-T now,” Freeman said. “That’s what he did at Lamar County. (They run) power sweeps, speed sweeps, things like that.”
Brooks has a lot of the same players it did last year, but those players are now a year older, and they have played well so far. The Trojans have scored over 40 points in three of their six games. They have also beaten the two winningest teams in Georgia prep football history (Valdosta and Thomasville). Last Friday, they beat Thomasville 28-10.
“I think we’re playing fairly well,” Freeman said. “I’d say we’re probably around 65-70 percent, and I’d like to grade out around 85-90. We’ve got a little growing to do, and if we keep continuing to progress, we’ll get there.”
Freeman says the Trojans have no serious injuries.
What will it take for Brooks to win tonight?
“We’ve got to establish our passing game early,” Freeman said. “Then we’ve got to run the ball consistently when we need to. Defensively, we’ve got to tackle. We’ve got to make some big plays on defense, a couple of turnovers here or there. And then special teams needs to be sound. If we do those things, then we’ll come out on top.”
The teams have one common opponent. Brooks beat Monroe 21-18, after quarterback Malcolm Parrish threw a long touchdown pass to Deric Herring in the final minute of the game. Fitzgerald lost to Monroe in overtime, 35-28.
“They lost to Monroe, but they were right there. They had to go into overtime, so it was a pretty good game. Monroe took us to the wire also, so you can’t count them out. We know (Fitzgerald is) a pretty good football team,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to be (ready to play).”