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ECI wins Class A State Championship
Emanuel County Institute running back Washaun Ealey, right, pumps his arm after scoring in the fourth quarter against Wilcox County during the GHSA Class A Championship Friday night in Cordele, Ga. - photo by Associated Press
    CORDELE, Ga. — The Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs risked everything by putting the ball in the hands of record-shattering running back Washaun Ealey 39 times, and it paid off with a 41-21 win over the Wilcox County Patriots and an undefeated season.
    Oh, and it gave ECI the 2007 GHSA Class A state championship, which fans from Twin City have been awaiting for a long time.
    “I’ve been waiting for this for four years,” said senior offensive/defensive lineman Chad Turner. “ECI had never had one. I’m glad we could get it in my senior year.”
    Behind Turner and the hard-hitting offensive line, Ealey finished the contest with 270 yards and three touchdowns, leading the way to a dominating victory in the state title game. The performance brought his rushing totals to an astounding 2,980 yards and 56 touchdowns on the season.
    The physical Wilcox defensive line keyed on Ealey throughout the entire contest.
    “It was a pretty tough game,” said the junior running back, “but the offensive line kept blocking and we kept pounding the football.”
    While the Bulldogs appeared to be firing from all cylinders, the Patriots struggled from the start.
    Nothing went right for WCHS in the first half. After the first drive of the game resulted in a three-and-out for the Pats, Ealey scored the first of his three touchdowns after hauling the ball nine times for 50 yards and capping the drive off with an eight-yard TD run.
    The next two Wilcox drives resulted in turnovers, and ECI took advantage both times. The first — an interception by LaCollie Gordon — resulted in a 15-yard Brooks Kirkland score, and the other, a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, resulted in Ealey’s second score and put ECI ahead 20-0 just :43 into the second quarter.
    Emanuel capped off its first-half scoring when ECI forced another punt that was blocked by Dexter Moody. Moody scooped up the loose ball and ran it in to put the Bulldogs up 26-0.
    “This is where we wanted to be,” said Wilcox coach Mark Ledford. “We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to and, ECI capitalized. They are a tremendous football team, and we lost to the state champions. They are well deserving.”
    The Patriots finally got on the scoreboard when, after a three-and-out, Bulldog defensive back LaCollie Gordon could not handle a punt and the fumble resulted in an Antonio Marshall touchdown run.
    The Patriots did not score again until the third quarter when — after Kirkland’s second rushing touchdown put ECI up 34-7 — The WCHS passing game started to click. On the next play from scrimmage, WCHS quarterback Lorenzo Dennard launched a pass to wide open brother Alfonzo who hauled it in and took it the distance for a 71-yard pass that cut the ECI lead to 34-14. They forced an ECI punt to end the half trailing by 19.
    ECI never quit, and dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball throughout the championship game.
    “There’s not a lot of teams that like to play physical for 48 minutes,” said ECI coach Milan Turner, “but our kids like to hit. You saw that tonight. That was the difference in the game.”
    The Bulldogs amassed all of their offensive yardage on the ground, racking up 343 yards on 58 carries and spreading it around to five different ball carriers. Ealey did a bulk of the work in the second half, taking 22 handoffs and grinding between the tackles for 128 second-half yards.
    Wilcox finally got its highly-vaunted passing attack going when Dennard completed five consecutive passes and set up their final score, but at that point, the ECI fans were already celebrating. Ealey ended the game with eight carries that drained the remainder of the clock and gave Emanuel County its championship.
    The team erupted into an emotional frenzy and the celebration began.
    “I couldn’t be any more proud of our kids and our coaches,” said Turner after the game. “It’s just an exciting time for our community. They deserve it. The support I’ve had since I’ve been here has been tremendous.”
    So what’s next for Turner and the Bulldogs?
    “”Tomorrow morning, we’ll go back to work,” said the coach. “Our kids are used to it. They understand what we’re doing here. We’re trying to build a tradition. Our goals will never change. The goal every year is to go undefeated and win a state title.”

    Herald videographer Vince Johnson contributed to this story.