FRIENDLY -- The McDonough Rams found the key to beating C. Milton Wright's unyielding defense last night in the Class 3A state football championship -- running back Sherron Gudger.
Gudger, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound junior, scored four touchdowns and rushed for 220 yards to give the Rams a 33-20 victory over the previously unbeaten Mustangs.
"He was explosive," said Wright coach Steve Harward, whose team had allowed an average of fewer than four points per game through the season. "We knew we had to defend against the kid; we just couldn't get it done."
Against the rush, Wright had yielded less than 100 yards per game until last night. Gudger broke loose on runs of 56, 56 and 77 yards.
Wright scored on its first possession with a 33-yard field goal by Mike Weichert. The Mustangs had driven from their 46 after McDonough punted on its first possession. Kenny Batten made big plays, including a 15-yard burst on fourth-and-two to set up the score, which came with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
It took Gudger 56 seconds to respond. He broke through the left side of the line and raced 56 yards to the end zone. The kick fell short, but Wright found itself trailing an opponent for the first time since its second game of the season.
Wright threatened two possessions later when Weichert made a 28-yard reception from Jeff Hawk. The drive died four plays later at the Rams 37 when a fourth-and-13 gamble ended in an incomplete pass.
Two plays later, Gudger took a handoff at his 37 and raced 56 yards. The Mustangs' Keith Wilson caught Gudger at the Wright 7 and forced a fumble. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback, and Wright took over at the 20.
With 1:44 remaining in the first half, Gudger scored his second touchdown, on a 3-yard run. He set up the score with a 23-yard run on fourth-and-one from the 26. The touchdown gave the Rams a 12-3 halftime lead after a conversion attempt ended short of the end zone.
Gudger increased the lead to 19-6 with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter when he ran three successive plays for 9, 21 and 1 yard.
Batten, Wright's mainstay on both defense and offense all season, brought the Mustangs back into contention when he picked up a fumble by Ryan Gick and raced 65 yards to the end zone. Weichert kicked the extra point to close the score to 19-13. The game remained close only briefly. Gudger took a handoff with 8:50 left on the third quarter and broke through the line for 77 yards to score his third touchdown. His run put an end to the Wright rally less than 2 minutes after it began. Mike Loredo kicked the extra point to make it 26-13.
Two minutes later, Roosevelt Lee sealed the victory with a 36-yard touchdown run to increase the Rams lead to 33-13.
Wright scored again to make it 33-20 with 2:02 remaining. Israel Sostrin went over the line from the 3 after Hawk passed 26 yards to Weichert and 11 yards to Sostrin to set up the touchdown.
Batten finished the game with 89 yards rushing on 20 carries. He also caught seven passes for 51 yards.
In winning its third state football title, McDonough completed the season with a 12-1 record. Its lone loss came in 39-0 rout at the hands of Northern at midseason. The Rams avenged the loss by beating Northern to advance to the finals. Wright's loss ended the best season in its 11-year history. The Mustangs, picked in the preseason to finish no better than 6-4, rolled to 12 straight victories, allowing only 44 points before last night's final.
C.M. Wright 3 3 0 14 -- 20
McDonough 6 6 7 14 --33
CMW--Weichert 33 FG
McD--Gudger 56 run (kick failed)
McD--Gudger 3 run (run failed)
CMW--Weichert 35 FG
McD--Gudger 1 run (Loredo kick)
CMW--Batten 65 fumble recovery (Weichert kick)
McD--Gudger 77 run (Loredo kick)
McD--Lee 36 run (Loredo kick)
CMW--Sostrin 3 run (Weichert kick)