Fitzgerald, Rockmart Trying to Emerge From Challenging Class 2A
When you look at the Class 2A bracket, and I mean at the beginning of the whole postseason, I have always thought this class is one of the toughest to navigate to get to -- and through -- a Game 15...
The four teams left: Fitzgerald, Pierce County, Rockmart and Cook all have fantastic pedigrees and have survived different ways to get to the region semis.
Pierce, the top-seed out of Region 3, has scored in the 30s and 40s and knocked off Fellowship by 32 to get here. Cook was the champ in Region 1 and has had to even win battles in court in the regular season to be a champ. The Hornets get Rockmart on the right side of your brackets.
Fitzgerald has to travel to the swamp for their semifinal. They’ve had to beat Putnam County and Spencer just to get to last week’s game with Callaway. Remember, those two played for a title back in 2020 at Georgia State that the Cavs won 22-17, so the in-house knowledge of these programs was obvious to the other.
“It’s a blessing to be in the playoffs at any seed,” No. 2 seeded Purple Hurricane head coach Tucker Pruitt says. “Our mindset wasn’t ‘we’ve GOT to go to Callaway. We GET to go to Callaway.’ Early in the game, they drove to the 1-yard-line and fumbled. We went down the field and scored. We had the early lead, but they scored and we kicked a field goal to be 14-10 at the half.
“The second half was more like a 1980s football game. There were mental mistakes and we had turnovers on back-to-back drives. We were even up 17-14 and had a chance to go up even more, but we got stuffed on the 1. We got an interception in the endzone late and we snuck out of there with a win.”
Talking to coach Pruitt, there was a lot he knew his team had to work on for this game in Blackshear. But he’ll be the first to tell you his defense played lights out. As a group, they did just enough to win.
“I knew we had to create two turnovers on the road,” he admits. “I just would have liked not to have given away two ourselves.”
Fitzgerald doesn’t care where they’re playing this week. They just happy to be playing on the road this time out. “It’s all about keeping our family together. I’m really proud of all of our kids here. We’re not ready to stop and reflect yet on this season. We’re trying to steal another week out of this thing.”
When I ask about Pierce, Coach Pruitt admits they’re a great team...
“They’re a lot like us. They’ll play two tight ends. They’ll play ‘bully ball.’ Their QB is really durable and they’re really well-coached. No one scores on them and they’re never out of position. They just don’t make mistakes. They wait on you to make them.”
For context, Biff Parson and his Rockmart staff are in their eighth season with the Yellow Jackets. They haven’t won fewer than nine games in a season and every year has been a playoff appearance in the second round or later every time but once. Rockmart has beaten Washington, Union County and Toombs County to get out of their quadrant and prepare for Cook.
They also have won seven straight region titles in both Class 2A and 3A. Before Parson started in 2016, the school hadn’t won nine games or more since 1989.
“We’re blessed to be in this position,” Parson says. “It has been a long road with injuries and a quarterback switch being a part of it this year. But we all got on the same page and the staff did a great job putting it all together.
The staff at Rockmart, this time of year, tries not to overcoach and keep the athletes as focused as possible. “It’s not as much about the X’s and O’s. It’s about the Jimmys and Joes playing for each other. We have to make sure they understand the standard we’ve created here.”
Losing early in the season to Cedartown and Dalton showed two things to the Yellow Jackets. One, that, even though they lost both games, they could play and compete with teams in higher classifications. Secondly, it does make them better. Remember, Rockmart hasn’t lost a region game since 2016. The seniors were in middle school then. These non-region losses give the team the chance to learn about adversity and how to deal with it.
“It’s part of winning,” Parson says. “If you can get the kids to understand it here. In life, it’s all about how you respond to times like these, too.”
He’s also grateful to everyone around him from the staff, administration, student body and community that are all a part of making the pieces work together. There is an expectation of winning on campus now.
When I ask about Cook, Coach Parson admits he’s not getting a lot of rest.
“Coach Slack has brought their tradition back. It’s almost a mirror-image looking at their team. They might be undersized, but it doesn’t matter to them. I think it’s going to be a tight game and addressing those fine details will make the difference in who wins the game.”
And we’ll all be watching who tries to make it out of one of the toughest brackets around...
Play it safe, everyone... I’ll talk to you soon!