It took more than 10 seasons, but the Hinesville Hurricanes can now call themselves league champions after defeating the Anderson Red Dawgs 20-14 on Saturday night in front of a home crowd at Long Bell Stadium.
The team swapped the lead five times, but the ’Canes managed to pull ahead in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and capping off a 2-point conversion for the win.
The ’Canes ate up the clock in the first quarter and mounted a drive led by running backs Joseph Matavao and Kendrick Badger. With the ball at the 14-yard line, ’Canes quarterback Frank Troupe hit Tavoris Lewis in the end zone for a touchdown, but the point after attempt by Edward Smith was low and under the cross bars.
The Red Dawgs attacked the ’Canes defense by shooting the gap in the middle of the field, and in the third quarter the visiting team mounted a drive for a touchdown and an extra point to take the lead 7-6.
The ’Canes answered the touchdown with a 40-yard run by Devon Grey, setting the home team up inside the 20-yard line. The Red Dawg defense stood and waited, but the ’Canes were lined up and when the referee blew the whistle, Troupe took the snap and hit Grey in the end zone. The PAT was wide, but the ’Canes regained the lead 12-7.
At the start of the fourth quarter, a run by the Red Dawgs gave them a first and goal at the one. That set up their next touchdown and they regained the lead 14-12.
With 4:29 left in the game, Badger ran the ball for a first down. Troup hit Kentarius Carlisle who made the catch and was brought down at the 19-yard line. Two plays later, Troup hit Carlisle in the end zone. The ’Canes took a time-out to discuss their options and went for a 2-point conversion to go up 20-14.
The ’Canes defense did the rest by stifling the Red Dawgs’ last 2 offensive drives.
For father and son James and James Sharp III, it was a bittersweet victory. Their biggest fan and "team mother," Mary Jo Sharp, passed away a couple of years ago.
"My first thought was my mom would have been so proud," James Sharp III, the team’s linebacker, said. "And as I closed my eyes, I saw her face and her saying those encouraging words ‘The best is yet to come.’ She would always say that after a tough loss or the end of the season. She knew this day was coming, I’m just sad that she wasn’t here physically, but I felt her in spirit. Just seeing my family there showed me she was."
"That’s so true," coach Sharp said. "She loved this team and she would have been so proud of the boys and the support they had from the crowd and the community. These guys played their hearts out. They played like they wanted the championship and they earned it."
"I really can’t believe this is happening," the younger Sharp said. "Just to know all the hard work and having to do this with limited resources and so many odds against us, God came through and we did it."