E.A. Sports Today

Jacksonville downs Alexandria

Jacksonville's Niedale Archie (23) is followed into the end zone by teammates Nick Gangwer (27) and J.J. Johnson as he returns Johnson's blocked punt that swung the game's momentum. (Photo by Greg McWilliams)

Jacksonville’s Niedale Archie (23) is followed into the end zone by teammates Nick Gangwer (27) and J.J. Johnson as he returns Johnson’s blocked punt that swung the game’s momentum. (All photos by Greg McWilliams)

Blocked punt return for touchdown changes all the momentum in Golden Eagles’ 27-19 victory

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – It was getting near the end of the half and Jacksonville was getting borderline desperate for something good to happen.

Alexandria was moving the ball, controlling the clock and the scoreboard, and although they were getting the ball to open the second half, the Golden Eagles wanted something to take into the dressing room.

Boom. One big special teams play right before the break changed all the momentum and lifted Jacksonville to a 27-19 win Friday night.

“That was just a good jumping point for our whole team,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said. “It gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum. It was just like a new ballgame.”

Coupled with last year’s one-point win, it marked the first time since 1988-89 Jacksonville had beaten the Valley Cubs in back-to-back years and the first time it had beaten them by more than a touchdown in 25 years.

“It felt good,” sophomore running back Tae Ackles said. “They came in thinking they were going to beat us and we just showed them we’re not as little as they think we are.”

Jacksonville was trailing trailed 13-6 when it forced the Valley Cubs to punt from near midfield. Junior J.J. Johnson broke in on Cubs punter Luke Tucker and blocked the kick. Sophomore Niedale Archie, one of the smallest players on the field, caught the ball in midair and raced 40 yards for the touchdown.

After Ackles scored the two-point conversion, the Golden Eagles never trailed again.

“They left that side open, so I just blitzed and I got to it,” Johnson said. “Coach told me to hustle and block it, so I had to.”

Sideline instruction played a part in Archie being in the right place to complete the play as well.

“Coach told me to stay,” he said. “I stayed, I saw it coming and I just took off. I saw it coming and I was like ‘I’m fixin’ to get this ball. I have to take it back.’ It was a good momentum changer. After halftime we came back and started doing good things.”

Up to that point, Archie agreed, “there wasn’t much going on” for the Golden Eagles. But they went into the locker room on a wave of emotion and actually were stronger and faster as the game progressed through the humid night. They had 151 of their 212 yards in the second half – all on the ground.

“We got turned,” Johnson said. “We got life and we turned the tables and we came out on top.”

With the ball to start the second half, the Golden Eagles could really exploit the momentum if they could do something on the opening drive. Ackles set the tone with a 42-yard burst on the first play and Sid Thurmond capped it with a 7-yard touchdown run to extend the lead 21-13.

Ackles finished with 101 yards rushing on 18 carries despite missing much of the third quarter with leg cramps.

The night couldn’t have started any better for Alexandria. The Valley Cubs scored on their first two possessions — Jacob Heathcock accounting for both touchdowns – and held Jacksonville to a three-and-out in between. They outgained their hosts through that stretch 133 yards to none.

Heathcock finished with 15 yards on four carries. Keenan Woodruff had 94 yards rushing on nine carries.

It all changed later in the half with the Golden Eagles’ bolt out of the blue.

“That’s what we want to do, run the ball,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “We felt like we could run the ball, but then we had the fumble and the blocked punt and it changed the momentum of the game.

“That gave them two scores, but you’ve got to give them credit for making those plays. Snake-bit a little bit tonight. They made the plays and we didn’t.”

Jacksonville 27, Alexandria 19

Alexandria 7 6 6 0 — 19
Jacksonville 0 14 7 6 — 27

A – Jacob Heathcock 3 run (Luke Tucker kick)
A – Heathcock 15 run (kick failed)
J – Tae Ackles 1 run (kick failed)
J – Niedale Archie 40 blocked punt return (Ackles run)
J – Sid Thurmond 7 run (Rico Ortiz kick)
A – Keenan Woodruff 3 run (run failed)
J – Quen Veasley 5 run (kick failed)

Al Jx
First downs 9 15
Rush-yds 35-188 43-168
C-A-I 8-14-0 6-10-0
Pass yds 90 44
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Punts-avg 3-34.0 2-42.5
Penalties 9-80 5-45

Jacksonville's new lead back, sophomore Tae Ackles (24) runs through a big hole.

Jacksonville’s new lead back, sophomore Tae Ackles (24) runs through a big hole.

Jacob Heathcock scored Alexandria's first two touchdowns Friday.

Jacob Heathcock scored Alexandria’s first two touchdowns Friday.

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