SANDERSVILLE, Ga. -- Facing the very same situation that derailed unbeaten Washington County a year ago, the Golden Hawks rallied with three touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to take a 44-31 Region 3-AAA victory over Burke County on Friday night at the House of Pain.
Montravious Gladden rushed for 280 yards and five touchdowns, including bursts of 65 and 63 in the second half, to rally undefeated Washington County in a thrilling shootout.
"We knew going in it was going to be a shootout, but this turned out to be one of those games that people will remember around here for a long time," Washington County coach Joel Ingram said. "It was warriors on both sides."
The Golden Hawks (8-0, 4-0 3-AAA) trailed most of the night until the rushing game exploded in the second half against a gassed Bears defense. Washington County rushed for 303 of its 443 rushing yards in the second half.
"We've caught a lot of flak over the years for not being flashy," Ingram said. "We were trying to run some clock and not get blown out. We stuck to the gameplan and it paid off."
Terrell Brigham was equally brilliant most of the night for Burke County (5-3, 1-3), rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns and passing for 287 yards and another score. But Brigham, who was playing his second straight game with a pulled groin, ran out of gas on a 76-yard run, falling at the 10-yard line instead of finishing the potential go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. His last two passes of the night were intercepted, including a jump pass on fourth-down at the goal line.
"Right there at the end when the game was in the balance, we couldn't get them stopped," Burke County coach Eric Parker said.
The Bears were also crippled by 15 penalties on the night, including a devastating block in the back that nullified a 68-yard punt return touchdown by James Cobb in the first quarter.
"We made way too many mistakes in a game like this," Parker said. "We came out of some of them but we couldn't come out of all of them."
The Bears led 31-23 late in the third quarter after Brigham connected with Keon Lewis for a 74-yard touchdown pass. But Burke's defense was never the same after that, yielding nearly 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns to the Golden Hawks in the fourth quarter.
"We just came out and did what we did," said Gladden, who on his 65-yard touchdown in the third quarter slipped out of three tackles in the last 30 yards.
The result was a complete reversal of a year ago, when Washington County entered in the identical position and suffered a 28-24 loss at Burke County that started a losing trend into the playoffs.
"It set us back three games and we lost our confidence," Ingram said of last year.
Despite his team's three region losses, Parker still has faith in the potential of his Bears.
"What we've got to do is find a way to win these last two and just get in the playoffs," he said. "We'll still take our shot against anybody."
It looked like Burke County once again had Washington County's number. The Bears got off to a near perfect start, driving 80 yards in eight plays for a quick 7-0 lead on Brigham's 16-yard touchdown run. After a defensive stop, the Bears appeared to make it 14-0 when Cobb took the punt 68 yards, but the touchdown was called back by a pair of Burke penalties. The Bears' second drive ended up with a missed 37-yard field goal.
It was another Burke County miscue that got Washington County back in the game. Deep in its own territory, Brigham's first-down pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Brandon Prosser and returned 4 yards to the Bears' 4. Gladden went straight up the middle on the next play and made it 7-6 after a missed extra point.
Brigham's 30-yard run and 38-yard pass completion to Orlando Howard to the goal line set up another Brigham touchdown and a 14-6 lead just before the first quarter ended.
Washington came right back, however, with consecutive scoring drives to take the lead 15-14. The first was capped by a 31-yard Javier Pace field goal, and Gladden scored his second touchdown on the second with a cut-back run from the 11.
Burke County responded with an 84-yard drive, highlighted by a 33-yard run by Devin Beverly, to inside the Golden Hawks' 10. The Bears settled for a 22-yard Juan Casarez field goal and a 17-15 lead as the half expired.
Burke County outgained Washington County 296-140 in first-half yards, but eight Bears penalties and the key turnover offset the offensive advantage.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.
WASHINGTON COUNTY 44, BURKE COUNTY 31
PLAY OF THE GAME: Darius Stephens intercepted Terrell Brigham 's fourth-down jump pass at the goal-line with 6:07 left to preserve Washington County's 37-31 lead.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Montravious Gladden rushed for 280 yards and five TDs, including 65- and 63-yard scores late.
WHY WASHINGTON COUNTY WON: Golden Hawks rushed for 303 yards in the second half with four touchdowns in the final 17 minutes.
WHY BURKE COUNTY LOST: Bears made too many penalties and the defense wore out.
NEXT: Burke County (5-3, 1-3 3-AAA) plays host to Thomson on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Washington County (8-0, 4-0) travels to Baldwin.