There wasn’t much to see in the first half of the GMC Prep versus Wilkinson County football game Thursday night, but the final two quarters more than made up for the early action shortage.
The Bulldogs (1-1 region, 3-3 overall) held on to a 7-6 lead late to outlast the Wilco Warriors (1-1 region, 1-4 overall) who were visiting from McIntyre.
The win gave GMC Prep its first victory over a region opponent since 2014, and that wasn’t the only first-time-in-a-long-time occurrence that fans got to witness on Davenport Field Thursday. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, GMC Prep and Wilco had met 22 times entering this week’s matchup, and the Bulldogs had not won one over the neighboring county school since 1965. The ‘Dogs were coached at the time by Parnell Ruark, the man who GMC named its athletic building after when it opened in 2003.
Second-year GMC Prep head coach Lee Coleman was more concerned with the present after the win than all that history.
“That win is huge,” he said. “We haven’t won a region game in a long time. None of my kids on the team — even my seniors — have ever won a region game. That puts us in prime position to do something we haven’t done in 18 years. If we get one more region win we get to go to the playoffs.”
Coleman’s Bulldogs have three region games remaining this season against Crawford County, Warren County and ACE Charter. Warren figures to be a tough ask, but Crawford and ACE should both be winnable, especially if the GMC defense plays the way it did Thursday night.
“The defense played like I thought they should play,” said Coleman. “[Wilco’s] skill guys scared me, but we weren’t aligned right on the big plays they did get. We found a way even with our backs against the wall to make a stop. I’m proud of those defensive guys.”
The Warriors did have some impressive ballcarriers in guys like Devinaire Samuels and Martavious Fox. They gained the edge more than a handful of times on jet sweeps throughout the night, but as Coleman said, his defense got the stops when the team needed it.
The game was scoreless coming out of halftime, but junior running back Yasir Saleem remedied that pretty quickly in the third quarter. Less than two minutes into the second half he rumbled his way through the Wilco defense for a 52-yard touchdown that put his team up 7-0 after the extra point.
The two Region 7-A Public contenders traded possessions through the remainder of the third until the fourth quarter hit. GMC punter Levi Ward, kicking from his own 24-yard line with 11 minutes to play, shanked it badly to his left, setting the Warriors up at the GMC 39. Soon after, Wilco fullback Marquavious Jones jockeyed his way down to the 1-yard line. The visitors took advantage and scored one play later, but opted to go for two rather than kick the extra point and tie. After a penalty that backed the Warriors up 5 yards, Wilkinson quarterback Dexter Walker Jr. rolled to his left and was eventually flushed out of bounds, holding the score at 7-6.
Both teams got the ball twice more from that point. GMC’s ensuing possession actually went backwards, but a 41-yard punt off the leg of Ward kept Wilco far from the end zone. The Warriors turned that possession over on downs with 3:10 to play. The Bulldogs did not go far on that drive either, and Coleman again called on the sophomore punter Ward. This kick was another boomer that wasn’t only high enough to allow coverage to get downfield, but also took a friendly roll all the way down to the Wilkinson County 11-yard line.
Coach Coleman heaped some high praise on his kicker after the game.
“Player of the game. Player of the game. That last punt was a beauty. Those last two punts changed the game for us and allowed our defense to go out and make plays.”
Out of timeouts, the Warriors got to about midfield with nine seconds to play. That play would go nowhere though as Walker was flushed from the pocket and tracked down by Saleem who grabbed hold of the white jersey and would not let go. The clock hit zeroes, and jubilation hit the GMC Prep sideline.
The Bulldogs will try to take keep the momentum rolling from their last two wins to Crawford County next week. Coach Keldrick Burke’s Wilco squad has a couple of off weeks before traveling to take on that same Crawford team.