E.A. Sports Today

Saks shocked

Top-ranked Wildcats were looking for region crown, instead get crowned by Randolph County; likely headed on road in playoffs

Atario Hester breaks the grip of Saks’ Leonta Jones (4) to score one of his four first-half touchdowns Friday night. (Photo by Greg Warren)

By John Mitchell
For East Alabama Sports Today

A night that was supposed to be a celebration – a crowning achievement for the No. 1 ranked Saks Wildcats – quickly turned into a massacre at Jack Stewart Field Friday night.

The Wildcats came in waiting to be crowned region champs. Third-ranked Randolph County ripped that crown away as the Tigers pummeled them 41-21 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

The loss threw Class 3A Region 6 into a three-way tie for first place, with Saks (7-1), Randolph County (7-1) and Piedmont (6-2) all 5-1 in region play with one region game to play.

It appeared as if coach Jonathan Miller’s Wildcats were sleepwalking through most of the first half, and by the time they woke up the game was already out of reach.

“We just let it get away from us in the first half,” Miller said. “Too many mistakes and we just got outplayed.”

By the time the bands were coming onto the field for the halftime performance, Randolph County was up 35-0 and what enthusiasm was left in the stands on a surprisingly empty Saks side had completely evaporated.

The Tigers’ defense swarmed over Saks stars Daveon Dukes and Johnathon Cobb, holding the Wildcats to just 27 total yards in the first half and one first down – and that coming when the Tigers jumped into the neutral zone on a fourth-and-1. Randolph County ended the game with more touchdowns than Saks had first downs.

After falling behind 41-0, Saks scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to show some pride, but the game was too far gone by the time they started figuring things out.

The thorough domination by the Tigers was a surprise to everyone watching, except for the Randolph County sideline, which through strong preparation and smart schemes put together a game plan that baffled Saks on both sides of the ball.

“I’m not surprised with our guys,” Randolph County coach Pat Prestridge said. “I think we’re turning the point and growing up a little bit. Our guys have been doing a great job working hard and I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Randolph County has gone through a lot of roster adversity, losing three of its top four running backs from the beginning of the season. After some soul-searching during the season, the Tigers have been able to push forward.

“I think we’ve overcome adversity ourselves,” Prestridge said. “Most people would have folded tent – I’m proud of our guys, every one of them.”

The only guy left with experience carrying the football, senior Atario Hester, shouldered the load for his team on Friday night.

Hester finished the game with 230 rushing yards on 17 carries and four rushing touchdowns. He eclipsed 200 yards and scored all four of his touchdowns in the first half – breaking through the middle of the Saks defense for three touchdown runs of over 40 yards.

“My offensive line was making holes big enough to drive a truck through,” Hester said.

“We just want to show everyone this team is not all running backs,” third-year starting center Nick Sims said. “It feels great to be able to prove a few people wrong.”

Saks was beaten at the point-of-attack all night, but it mattered little when they were actually in position to make a play as Hester would simply put his head down and bull his way through the Wildcats defense.

Like legendary Georgia play-by-play announcer Larry Munson once said in describing a Vernon Hayes run against Tennessee in 2001, Hester stepped on Saks’ face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose. And in the process, Hester’s hard running broke the Wildcats’ spirit as well as he dragged defenders down the field with him time-and-time again.

He scored on a 51-yard run with just 23 seconds to play in the first half on a fourth-and-1 play, breaking through numerous Saks tackles and taking a defender into the end zone with him. It was that touchdown run that delivered the knockout blow to Saks.

Hester didn’t expect to be in the forefront, beginning the season down the depth chart, but roster attrition put him in the limelight, and he has repeatedly delivered for his team.

“I knew that I was next in line,” he said. “I was the only back that had experience so I had to keep my head up and get these other guys on board.”

The loaded 3A Region 6 now has a three-way tie atop the region standings with Randolph County, Saks, and Piedmont.

Each team still has a region game remaining, but it seems likely that tiebreakers will come into effect with each team having a win and a loss against the other two. The tiebreak comes down to designated points in non-region games.

With Saks only playing nine games and Randolph County finishing with 1A Wadley, Piedmont seems to have the edge in the tiebreaker for the region crown. Randolph County would slide into second place, and Saks would fall all the way to third, meaning the Wildcats would drop from No. 1 in the state to now having to go on the road to start the playoffs.

That’s obviously presumptuous with a region game remaining for each, but the Wildcats were served an ugly wakeup call on their home field on a night that began with so much promise.

There would be no celebration in the locker room after the game for the Wildcats – just a long look in the mirror after they watched a region championship slip through their grasp.

Randolph County 41, Saks 21
Team stats RC Saks

First downs 13 6
Rushes-yds 42-328 29-105
Passes 2-4-0 4-11-2
Passing yds 38 41
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Punts-avg 6-32.0 7-32.1
Penalties-yds 9-55 0-0

Scoring Summary
Randolph County 13 22 6 0 – 41
Saks 0 0 7 14 – 21

R – Atario Hester 77 run (Christain McFarland kick), 6:23 1Q
R – Damarcus Davis 3 run (kick failed), 1:56 1Q
R – Atario Hester 11 run (Jordan Heard pass from Damarcus Davis), 11:17 2Q
R – Atario Hester 40 run (kick failed)), 3:26 2Q
R – Atario Hester 51 run (Dante Jordan run), 0:23 2Q
R – Dante Jordan 2 run (kick failed), 5:23 3Q
S – Terventius Gibbs Jr. 70 run (Anthony Cornejo kick), 1:27 3Q
S – Daveon Dukes 22 blocked punt return (Anthony Cornejo kick), 11:13 4Q
S – Jonathan Cobb 6 run (Anthony Cornejo kick), 4:55 4Q

Jacob Landingham (25) blocks a punt that produced Saks’ second touchdown against Randolph County. (Photo by Greg Warren)

On the cover: Randolph County quarterback Damarcus Davis gets way up to celebrate a touchdown against Saks. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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