LAWRENCEVILLE – It was a defensive struggle for No. 2 Archer and No. 8 Colquitt County on Friday night. The Tigers and Packers participated in a hard-nosed, gritty Class AAAAAAA Quarterfinal matchup, which was decided on the leg of Packers’ kicker Ryan Fitzgerald.
He hit four-of-five field goals, including a 60-yarder off a free kick, to lead Colquitt County to a 12-7 win at Archer Community Stadium.
Throughout Friday’s game, the Packers (10-3) moved the football into Tigers’ territory against a stingy defense that only allowed its last six opponents to score 3.3 points per game. The Tigers (12-1) then flexed their muscles and made sure every Packer drive stalled before reaching the end zone. It was up to Fitzgerald from there. The junior kicker didn’t let the chilly night or long-distance kicks affect him as he nailed four kicks from 43, 60, 47 and 29 yards.
“Ryan Fitzgerald is the best kicker in this state, all-around as a junior,” Colquitt County coach Rush Probst said. “I have seen kickers at (University of) Alabama not near as good as him. He’s got ice water in his veins because we do it every day in practice.”
This is the second time in the last four years Colquitt County has knocked Archer out of the playoffs. In the only other meeting between the two schools in 2014, the Packers topped the Tigers to win the state championship. With the win, the Packers will now make their eighth semifinal appeared in the last 10 years – since Probst took over in 2008.
On Friday, Fitzgerald got the scoring started on a 43-yard field goal after quarterback Steven Krajewski led the Packers into scoring range.
“I felt great today,” Fitzgerald said. “I couldn’t do it without my holder and snapper. I have the best snapper in the state in Noah Hightower and the best holder in the state in Steven (Krajewski). The offensive line was great so I couldn’t do it without them.”
Archer went three-and-out on four of its six first half possessions, not including taking a knee at the end of the half. The Packers defense fell asleep for one play in the second quarter that led to a Tigers’ touchdown.
Tigers wide receiver Tayion Palmer ran a deep post route and got behind the Packers secondary. Carter Peevy hit the senior in-stride, who then dashed away from the defense for a 55-yard touchdown to put Archer up 7-3 early in the second quarter. Apart from the long pass play, Archer had just 52 yards of offense in the opening half.
“I knew our speed would give them problems and if they couldn’t gash us in the box, then I knew we would have a great chance to spill it to the outside and attack them there,” Probst said.
With seven seconds remaining in the second quarter, Colquitt County elected to try a rarely seen maneuver; a free kick from the 50-yard line. The Tigers were backed up deep in their own territory and seeing an opportunity to get some points on the board before halftime, Probst told an official his team wanted to try a free kick.
“My special teams coach reminded me of it. I had actually called a timeout not to try the free kick and then we end up doing it because I thought we would get a decent spot on the fair catch,” Probst said. “This was the first time its ever worked for me.”
Probst told the official his returner would fair catch an Archer punt (per the rule). He did just that, which gave Fitzgerald a chance to kick off the tee with no one attempting to block his field goal try. He nailed the 60-yard try to cut the Packers deficit to 7-6.
“We go out there every Wednesday during practice and practice (free kicks). Generally, my percentage is pretty good.” Fitzgerald said. “When I hit it I was thinking, ‘oh gosh I misshit it and it’s going to be short.’ I was lucky it just went through.”
Colquitt County’s defense began to impose its will in the second half. The Packers picked off three passes and shut down a crucial third-and-1 run in the fourth quarter.
Packers’ defensive back Nyquan Washington intercepted two passes, including returning one for 51 yards to set up Fitzgerald’s go-ahead 29-yard field goal with 8:25 to go in the game. Safety Cam Woods intercepted a pass on the final play of the game.
After just grabbing the lead, Colquitt County stuffed Archer running back Semaje Banks on a short third down. The Packers limited a powerful rushing attack to just 2.8 yards per carry on the evening.
“We have had our ups and downs this season, but I loved the way we stepped up tonight considering we mostly have juniors and sophomores out (on defense),” Probst said.
With Archer’s defense having been on the field for nearly 30 more plays than Colquitt County’s, the Packers offense was able to grind the football on the ground late in the game. Krajewski finished with 84 yards on 12 carries while running back Daijun Edwards added 81 yards on 23 carries. Fitzgerald sealed the victory with a 47-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining in the contest.
For the fourth time in these playoffs, Colquitt County will travel to the metro-Atlanta area to play in a playoff game. The Packers will take on the Region 7 Champion Brookwood next Friday. The Broncos defeated Tift County on Friday 35-28. This will be the second-time the Packers have faced the Broncos this season. Colquitt County traveled to Brookwood Sept. 15 and lost 42-25.
5:18 – 3-0: 43-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald
11:10 – 3-7: 55-yard touchdown pass from Carter Peevy to Taiyon Palmer
:07 – 6-7: 60-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald
8:25 – 9-7: 29-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald
:28 – 12-7: 47-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald.
QB Steven Krajewski: 11/18, 105 yards; 12 carries, 84 yards
RB Daijun Edwards: 23 carries, 81 yards
RB Ty Leggett: 11 carries, 21 yards
WR Cam Singletary: 3 catches, 42 yards
WR KT Wilson: 4 catches, 39 yards
QB Carter Peevy: 11/25, 150 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions
RB Keegan Strickland: 11 carries, 27 yards
RB Semaje Banks: 6 carries 22 yards
WR Taiyon Palmer: 4 catches, 87 yards, 1 touchdown
WR Andrew Booth: 4 catches, 90 yards