FITZGERALD — Model’s historic nine-win season came to an end Friday night when the Blue Devils ran into a faster, more physical Fitzgerald team which beat them 48-14 in the second round of the Class AA Playoffs.
The Blue Devils entered the game troubled by injuries, as first-string quarterback Tyler Dean broke his hand last week, and by the second half they were simply gutted by the injury bug.
They lost starting running back Nakyle Watkins to an ankle sprain and second-string quarterback and starting linebacker Kyler Eldridge to a shoulder injury.
“Tyler Dean, our starting quarterback broke his hand last week,” said head coach Gordon Powers. “We have a very capable backup — Kyler Eldridge — he got his shoulder injured early in the first quarter. In the second half, we couldn’t just throw him back in there. Then Nakyle got hurt. All my starters are important, but the guys that couldn’t get hurt were my quarterback and my starting linebacker.”
In the second half, Model relied on third string quarterback VJ Saxton, who performed well on defense, but he and the entire Blue Devil offense struggled all game.
Fitzgerald entered the game as a 10-win team, averaging 44 points in those victories, and its wealth of talent was on display from the opening quarter.
After both teams exchanged turnovers on downs, the Purple Hurricanes began their onslaught, and scored rushing touchdowns on consecutive drives to drive the score to 13-0 at the end of the quarter.
At the beginning of the second quarter Fitzgerald displayed its passing prowess when quarterback Gerald Morgan hit Trey Graham for a 65-yard score.
Later in the second, JD King found the end zone to put Fitzgerald up 27-0 midway through the period.
Several minutes later the Purple Hurricanes had possession again, but Morgan threw an interception over the middle to Saxton, who returned it to the Fitzgerald one-yard line.
Two plays later Eldridge found Saxton for a touchdown.
At the beginning of the second half, Model was forced to start Saxton at quarterback because of Eldridge’s injury, and as pass play after pass play was called, the Blue Devil offense continued to sputter and stall.
The defense gave up three more touchdowns to King and the Purple Hurricanes in the second half, but in the third quarter Morgan once again threw an interception.
This time it was Brendan Thomas for Model who picked it off, and he took it to the house for the Blue Devils’ final score of the season.
“I told them I was proud of them, and I told them there’s only going to be one team in the playoffs that’s not going to lose their last game,” Powers said. “I hate for it to happen here in the second round but we did what we had to do to get here, we just didn’t have the firepower to get it done against a good team.”
It was Fitzgerald’s abundance of speed and playmaking ability on offense that was Model’s undoing, and the defense, which gave up 8.2 points a contest in the regular season was gashed for 48 on Friday.
But while the loss is a tough pill to swallow for the Blue Devils, Powers took heart at the progress his team made this year.
“The kids made history,” Powers said. “That’s something that they’ll all get credit for, they’ll all talk about, and that the Model community will talk about. It’s set in stone now. Nine wins, second round of the playoffs.”
Powers said they would have loved to have made it farther, but he is pleased with his players and the effort they gave.
“I was very proud of the effort they gave,” he said. “The biggest thing is if you just keep giving everything you have, good things will happen. That’s how we got to nine wins this year.”
The Blue Devils finish the year with a 9-3 record. It marks the most wins in a season by Model since the Blue Devils captured the Class AA State Title in 1979.