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November 28, 2012

Field goal gives Canes boost into quarterfinals

ATHENS — It was wobbly, but it went Manuel Chavez’s field goal went through as the gun to end the first half sounded. That increased the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes lead to 18-14 over the Vidalia Indians and provided the spark that led to a second half explosion that powered them to a 52-20 win, increased their record to 10-2 and ensured them a trip to the state quarterfinals.

Coach Jason Strickland believes it was the play that put his team over the top.

“The field goal energized our sideline,” he said. “The energy visibly left Vidalia’s sideline and went to our sideline.”

Chavez’s boot did not give the Canes the lead. Larry Stewart’s touchdown run with 1:12 in the second quarter had been that particular blow, but it marked the moment where everything Vidalia attempted seemed to backfire. A simple run to finish out the quarter resulted in an Indians fumble and left just enough time to get Chavez a solid toehold.

In the third quarter, it was the long snap-itis that plagued them. Two consecutive possessions for Vidalia were stopped deep in their own territory. Two consecutive snaps to the punter went awry, both resulting in safeties, with each free kick to the Canes resulting in even more points.

The final quarter blues for Vidalia was one of a different tune. Trying to find receivers in an attempt to play catch-up, quarterback D.J. Mincey only found Purple Hurricanes. Only seconds after scoring a touchdown, D.J. Smith pocketed an interception. Later in the period, Antonio Wilcox picked off another errant throw for a 55-yard score.

Amazingly, most of the opening half belonged to Vidalia. The Indians, who came in with a spotless 11-0 record and a No. 3 ranking, carried the early part of the game on the legs of Mincey and their season-leading rusher, Juan Foster.

Special teams were even going their way. Tra Hardy gave them the early lead with an 80-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter. Ron Swain would answer for Fitzgerald with a rushing score of his own, but Chavez was wide on the extra point attempt and the Indians maintained the lead. Mincey would increase the lead to eight when he ran it in on a bootleg option.

“We were riding a wave of emotion,” Strickland said of his squad’s early struggles.

Chavez nailed his first field goal of the night at 3:47 in the second. An onside kick attempt seemed to push the momentum back to Vidalia, but a Canes defensive stop saw the first appearance of the long snap demon. This one only gave them great field position, but it was the setup for Stewart’s touchdown, one that gave them their first lead, 15-14.

Strickland said it was here that they began to settle down. “We told our guys to hang in there. Once it turned into a football game, we knew we’d be OK.”

Next on the agenda for Fitzgerald are the Jefferson Dragons in the quarterfinals, a game that will be played in Jefferson.

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Tift County head football coach John Reid.

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