Seminole County coach Alan Ingram and the Indians wrapped up an undefeated regular season Friday with a Region 1-A clinching win against Mitchell County.
DONALSONVILLE — They waited 40 years for it, but it was worth every second.
The die-hard fans of Seminole County football, who packed the stadium Friday night looking to be a part of school history, were treated to just that when their beloved Herald No. 2 Indians capped off just the second perfect 10-0 regular season following an 18-12 win against No. 4 Mitchell County.
"It's been a long time. A LONG time," marveled Seminole County assistant head coach Danny Rambo Sr., who played for Seminole 40 years ago during that last unbeaten mark and watched with the delight as the Indians' players -- including Rambo's son, Danny Jr., who scored a TD in the win --- danced across Seminole Stadium as "We Are the Champions" blared over the loudspeakers following the game. "But it feels good. I just can't wait to see what's next."
What's next is that Seminole will hosting a first-round state playoff game in two weeks. And by virtue of the victory, which wrapped up the Indians' third straight Region 1-A crown and secured the No. 1 spot in the GHSA Class A public school power rankings, the Indians won't have to leave the comforts of Donalsonville until they head for the Georgia Dome in Atlanta as long they keep the wins coming.
Talk to any Seminole player after Friday's game, and they'll tell you that's exactly where they're going.
"To the Dome," Seminole sophomore quarterback Alex Fudge predicted. "That's where we're gonna end up."
Fudge, the diminutive signal caller who -- at 5-foot-4 -- can barely see over the offensive line, played like a giant Friday as he commanded the Indians' offense. And while Fudge didn't post any eye-popping numbers -- rushing for just 21 yards on eight carries -- he did complete a huge third-down pass on Seminole's go-ahead drive and made intelligent plays with the ball on read-options throughout the game. Seminole County coach Alan Ingram joked at the beginning of the season that Fudge would be lucky to be 5-7 by the time he was done growing, but he was serious when talking about his young QB after Friday's win.
"He's a good one. A real good one," said Ingram, who has been coaching at Seminole for 42 years, 10 as the head coach, and wrapped up his third straight region crown Friday. "Fudge played great, but so did our defense. We were banged up on offense, so our defense carried us (Friday). I'm proud of them all. It means something to know the region title has to come through Seminole County."
Linebacker Javonte Smith, who also rushed for six carries for 45 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, led the way with seven tackles and a sack. Smith not only carried tacklers across the goal line on his TD run, but he played a huge part in shutting down Mitchell County's dangerous quarterback Bruce Bryant all night.
Bryant, who had been electric during Mitchell's five-game winning streak coming into Friday, was held in check with just 77 yards on 5 of 12 passing. Bryant's top receiver Josh King was also held to just three catches for 51 yards, while Mitchell County's primary source of offense, Anfrenee Williams, had a roller coaster night in the loss.
If it wasn't for Williams, Mitchell may have lost the game by double-digits. But the senior RB/DB was electric at times -- while careless at others. Williams broke off a 77-yard score in the second quarter to pull to within 7-6 of Seminole, and then he took the opening punt of the second half back for a touchdown from 85 yards away, briefly giving Mitchell a 12-10 lead. But it was Williams' personal foul penalty on defense late in the fourth quarter -- and subsequent ejection -- which helped keep Seminole's offense on the field and Mitchell's off of it as the Eagles looked to mount a game-winning drive. He finished with 166 all-purpose yards in the loss.
The Eagles' regular season, which was on a five-game winning streak entering Friday, ends at 6-4 overall and 5-1 in region play.
"I thought our boys played extremely tough (Friday)," Mitchell coach Larry Cornelius said. "Offensively we dropped a few balls. Defensively, we missed a few tackles. But I'm extremely proud of our effort."
Neither team was able to run away with the crown early on, however.
After both defenses stood their ground on the first two drives of the game, No. 3 for Seminole yielded the game's first score when Rambo barrelled into the end zone from seven yards out and Matt Williams' PAT gave the Indians an early 7-0 lead.
The Seminole defense would keep Mitchell from even going across midfield until deep into the second quarter, but with the Eagles' backs against the wall on third-and-17 from their own 23-yard line and just under seven minutes left before the half, Williams provided the spark Mitchell was looking for when he busted through the middle of Seminole's defensive line untouched and sprinted 77 yards for the score. The Eagles, however, would miss the PAT and trailed, 7-6.
It was the Eagles' turn to come up big on defense just before halftime when Seminole County saw its 11-play, 65-yard drive -- that featured two fourth-down conversions -- end in a 23-yard field goal by Williams after the Indians were stuffed three times inside the 10 yard line as the seconds waned toward intermission.
Seminole's only second-half score came when Smith carried three would-be Eagles tacklers into the end zone from 10 yards out, capping a 11-play, 65-yard drive by the Indians.
Seminole County could've been up huge at halftime had it not been for two costly penalties. The first came on a muffed punt by Mitchell at its own 20, but after Rambo recovered the ball, the play was called back because of an illegal procedure penalty by the Indians. On Seminole's next offensive possession, quarterback Alex Fudge scrambled for 35 yards down to Mitchell's 25-yard line, but that play was also hit with a flag, this one for a chop block by Seminole.
Penalties were a significant story in the game, including one that almost cost Seminole big.
The biggest yellow-flag folly that nearly hurt the Indians happened late in the fourth quarter when -- with the Eagles behind, 18-12, and driving -- Bryant found Troy Chester for an 8-yard catch and on first down, but Chester fumbled the ball after clearly taking several steps and turning upfield. Seminole recovered at the Eagles' 40-yard line and the official signaled it was Indians ball, pending the outcome of a flag. After a seven-minute conference at midfield by the officials, the play was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass and the penalty -- whatever it was -- was never announced. Indians fans became even more irate when Mitchell was incorrectly allowed to play the down over again.
Four plays later -- including two Seminole County sacks of Bryant -- and Mitchell was forced to turn the ball over on downs at midfield with four minutes left, appearing as if that could be the ball game if Seminole was able to run out the clock. But the Indians couldn't and were stopped on fourth down, handing the ball back to Mitchell County on its own 30 with 2:54 left to play.
The Indians' defense, however, stood on its head, never allowing the Eagles -- who were whistled for two personal foul penalties on their final drive -- to reach midfield. Then Mitchell's last gasp on fourth-and-22 fell incomplete with 1:26 to play, sealing it for Seminole.
Ingram took the politically correct route after the game when asked about the officiating.
"Look, you have high school refs out here who have full-time jobs and are doing the best they can," Ingram said. "That being said, I haven't seen what happened on that one play ever before (in my 42 years), but it's OK. We're 10-0 and region champions.
"That's all I care about right now."
NOTES: Mitchell County last won the region title in 2010 ... The Seminole County softball team, the Region 1-A champion, was recognized at halftime Friday night for their impressive season that ended recently in the semifinals of the state playoffs. The Lady Indians ended as the No. 3 team in the state.