E.A. Sports Today

Bearcats show balance

Weaver dumps Ohatchee with speed, tough defense and players on both sides of the ball capable of big plays

Weaver’s Robert Gaines (4) stretches out to haul in a pass against the defense of Ohatchee’s Baylee Graham Thursday night. On the cover, Weaver’s Shamar Spinks breaks off a run. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Last year Ohatchee and Weaver made it to the Final Four of the northern half of the Class 3A playoff bracket. They would have played each other had both won their state quarterfinal games.

It didn’t happen, but Thursday night at Jacksonville State county high school football fans got a glimpse, if somewhat muted, what that game might have looked like.

The Bearcats, 9-4 last year, exacted a little revenge from their regular-season loss to Ohatchee, battling past the Indians 28-14 in a game that lasted three quarters before the second units got time on the field in the fourth quarter. Of course, the seniors from last fall’s teams were not eligible to play.

“The biggest thing you want to get our of this, especially with both teams who lost a lot of players, is trying to figure out what we’re going to be able to do,” Weaver coach Daryl Hamby said. “This was more (about) learning than about winning. I know they want to win, I got that; you want to compete. But we learned a lot.”

The Bearcats showed great speed at the skill positions, a tough defense and people on both sides of the ball capable of big plays.

Weaver’s offense was spectacular at times behind the play of quarterback Dalton Hamby and the running of junior tailback Shamar Spinks. Fullback Caleb Allison had some big runs up the middle to keep the Indians off-balance and his experience as a former lineman gives the Bearcats ostensibly a sixth lineman in their backfield.

“Caleb’s got great feet, good hands and he’s an extra blocker,” Hamby said. “People say you lost a great lineman, but they don’t understand he’s still there. He’s a guy on the line who can catch and he made some exceptional blocks tonight. He’s like our (Philip) Lutzenkirchen.”

London Knight and Robert Gaines, meanwhile, showed great speed at wide receiver and drew praise for their perimeter blocking, but had a couple of drops that would have been touchdowns in the first half. Still, if all the pieces come together, Hamby believes his offense has “got a chance to be dangerous.”

Weaver opened the scoring early with a 60-yard run by Spinks. The Indians bounced right back with a touchdown pass from Grayson Alward to Kevin Williamson from 30 yards.

Weaver took control late in the first quarter with a 22-yard run from Spinks and a 48-yard pass from Hamby to Gaines. Ohatchee stopped two more Weaver drives inside the 30-yard line to end the half down 21-7.

Isaiah Woods capped off a 70-yard drive in the third quarter with a 4-yard plunge to put the Bearcats ahead 28-7. Riley Benavides kicked his fourth consecutive extra point after the score.

“I was very pleased,” offensive coordinator Gary Atchley said. “We’ve got three brand new linemen up front (Brandon Boyce, Cameron Clark and Jasper Dukes) and we were nervous going in but I thought they stepped up. We kept it pretty vanilla up front, but I thought they played great. We’re going to live and die off our skill guys; if our linemen will block, our skill guys will make plays.”

Ohatchee, 12-2 a year ago, struggled at times in its quest to replace an all-state backfield of quarterback Taylor Eubanks and running back Austin Tucker. Penalties just kept the offense in difficult positions all night against an aggressive Bearcat defense.

The Indians lost Alward to an ankle sprain in the third quarter and moved running back Jessie Sellers to quarterback. Sellers promptly took them 75 yards for a touchdown; he got the score on a 30-yard run.

There’s a sense Weaver will be something special this season as it comes off a strong performance last year down the stretch, winning four of their last five games. The Bearcats battled injuries last year and the experience those replacements gained has been something they’re building off as they enter the 2017 season.

Weaver’s four losses in 2016 were to state champion Piedmont twice and two region rivals that finished in the top 8 in the state (Ohatchee and Randolph County).

Despite its senior losses, Ohatchee will be a force as well as its defense got better as the game went on and the offense will settle in over the summer.

“We just showed a lot of young and inexperience tonight,” Indians coach Scott Martin said. “But Weaver was pretty good and beat us up with their team speed and were more physical than us, and that was disappointing.”

These two teams square off for real on Sept. 22. Get there early.

Weaver 38, Ohatchee 14
Ohatchee 7 0 7 0 — 14
Weaver 14 7 7 0 — 28

W – Shamar Spinks 60 run (Riley Benavides kick)
O – Kevin Williamson 30 pass from Grayson Alward (PAT kick)
W – Shamar Spinks 22 run (Benavides kick)
W – Robert Gaines 48 pass from Dalton Hamby (Benavides kick)
W – Isaiah Woods 4 run (Benavides kick)
O – Jessie Sellers 30 run (PAT kick)

Ohatchee’s Kevin Williamson (18) engages in a midair ballet with Weaver’s Jadon Calhoun in their battle for a pass. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Weaver’s defense moves in to wrap up Ohatchee backup quarterback Jessie Sellers. To see more B.J. Franklin pictures from the game, go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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