TIFTON — For Ben Hill and Irwin counties, Christmas essentially comes twice each year.
Santa Claus makes his way down chimneys each Dec. 25 and on one Friday during each football season, Irwin County plays Fitzgerald. This particular time has come around once again and the Purple Hurricane travel to Ocilla tonight. Game time is at 7:30 p.m.
Both teams enter 1-0 after winning their opening week games by very similar scores. Irwin County trounced Berrien, 42-7. Fitzgerald burned Bacon at 46-3.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Irwin County Buddy Nobles. Tucker Pruitt, head coach of the Purple Hurricane, described this as being a “fun week.”
For the first time in a long time, Nobles’ team won’t be the one looking for revenge. The Indians broke a 19-year winless streak last season, defeating the Hurricane at Jaycee Stadium, 16-10.
Nobles credited assistant Casey Soliday for his work with Irwin’s defense against Berrien. The Rebels scored no points against Irwin’s first team, which forced several turnovers.
They’ll have their match in Fitzgerald. The Hurricane scored early and often, using quarterbacks Rashad Davis and Mac Turner to perfection.
“I thought they both did good things,” said Pruitt. Corralling the duo — and a massive offensive line — is a “key thing” for Nobles.
In addition to the quarterbacks, Fitzgerald was very effective at rushing last week. Mario Clark had two touchdowns in that department, in addition to one through the air. Pruitt likes his junior running back, commenting that he is “serious about football.”
Pruitt, too, is serious. He knows Irwin County will be without running back D.J. Lundy, but that might not matter with the Indians’ gameplan.
“We have our hands full,” he said. “You’re not going to shut them out.”
Lundy could be a one-man wrecking crew. However, the Indians had several more backs in the cupboard. Jamorri Colson, Marcus Edwards and Garland Benyard contributed rushing touchdowns. Gabriel Benyard brought back a punt for a score. Though he did not make his way into the scoring column, usual linebacker Kam Ward is another bruising running back.
If the rushing game was not enough to scare Pruitt, quarterback Zach Smith completed 8 of 10 attempts for 171 yards.
“Our kids played unbelievable,” said Nobles.
(For the record, Irwin County has not been shut out since Sept. 7, 2012. Fitzgerald was the team to do it.)
The rivalry between the counties dates back to before football existed in either. They first met on the gridiron in 1922 when Ocilla had its own city school system. Ocilla dropped football a decade later and games between the Fitzgerald a newly-consolidated Irwin County resumed in 1954. Their series is one of the oldest continuous ones in the state. According to Georgia High School Football Daily, only three current series have been played for more consecutive years: Trion-Gordon Lee (which dates to 1946), Valdosta-Colquitt County and Ringgold versus Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe. Bowdon and Bremen have also played every year since 1954.
Following this contest, Irwin County will hit the road for a game at Fairburn-based Mount Paran Christian. Fitzgerald will be back at home against Dooly County. Mount Paran is at Our Lady of Mercy tonight and Dooly’s Bobcats are hosting Worth County.