E.A. Sports Today

Showdown set

Jacksonville, Hokes Bluff survive scares to set stage for region title game; Wiggins eligible to play after ejection

Ron Wiggins (4) provides some out-front blocking on Jewels Gray’s touchdown. (Photos by Brody Stanfield)

By Matthew Fuller
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Golden Eagles came into their final regular-season home game with an 8-0 record and an eye on the playoffs. The White Plains Wildcats came to town 2-6, but had no plans of letting Jacksonville off without a fight.

The Wildcats tried to keep the ball out of Jacksonville’s hands as much as possible in the first half, but the Golden Eagles found a way to score and in the end won 27-8 to set up a Class 4A Region 6 championship showdown at Hokes Bluff.

Hokes Bluff survived a scare from Cherokee County to win 21-17.

Jacksonville is 9-0, Hokes Bluff is 8-0. They’re both 6-0 in the region. Hokes Bluff is currently ranked No. 2 in Class 4A and Jacksonville is No. 3.

The Golden Eagles haven’t been 9-0 in a season since 1999, when they went 9-0 in the regular season and won their playoff opener for 10 straight.

“Next week we’re going against the best team we’ve played this season,” Golden Eagles coach Clint Smith said. “It’s going to be a huge test but my guys have answered the call all year long so I fully expect us to be prepared and be ready to go to Hokes Bluff and compete for that region championship.”

Jacksonville junior running back Ron Wiggins rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries as he marches towards a 2,000-yard season, but was ejected in the fourth quarter for an unsportsmanlike foul. He has been told he would be eligible to play the entire game next week against the Eagles.

White Plains held the ball for a few seconds over 21 minutes in the first half, but Jacksonville found a way to score and led 14-8 at halftime.

With 5:46 on left in the first quarter Jacksonville’s Ron Wiggins took a handoff and ran 19 yards into the Wildcats’ end zone. It stayed that way until 7:17 before halftime when Jewels Gray took a quick pass from Luke Jackson and went 59 yards to make it 14-0.

The White Plains then started a long drive through a series of running plays and with 33.7 left in the half, on third-an-12, the Wildcats got on the board. Jaden Chatman threw a 35-yard pass to Ethan Bozarth and then a two-point conversion pass or Jaden Harris.

“Coming out the first half White Plains really used the ball control offense and kept our defense off the field,” Smith said. “But the second half I thought we came out and flipped the script a little bit and were able to get more plays and possessions on the offense.”

After a series of six handoffs Jacksonville was on the Wildcats 3. The Golden Eagles gave it to Wiggins, who was in the end zone again. Jaeden Barksdale scored the game’s final touchdown on a 45-yard punt return.

With a little more than nine minutes remaining, Wiggins took a handoff. During his drive to push through the defenders an official threw a flag for an unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul for punching and Wiggins was ejected from the game.

“I was already out of bounds and he tried hitting me and I stiff-armed him before he hit me and the refs called a punch,” Wiggins said.

“It was just a bunch of jawing, it was just football and guys getting heated,” Smith said. “That happens throughout the game. It’s a physical game. We just have to make sure we continue to keep our heads about us and make sure we make good decisions.”

Wiggins later said he was told the call was reversed. Smith said he wasn’t aware of that, all he knows is his lead back is “good to go and ready to play.”

Jacksonville 27, White Plains 8
Team stats WP Jax

First downs 10 14
Rushes-yds 43-70 24-194
Passes 5-11-1 9-14-0
Passing yds 94 87
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Punts-avg 6-30.8 2-39.0
Penalties-yds 4-20 3-35

Scoring summary
White Plains 0 8 0 0 – 8
Jacksonville 7 7 7 6 – 27

J – Ron Wiggins 19 run (Noah Sawyer kick), 5:46 1Q
J – Jewels Gray 59 pass from Luke Jackson (Noah Sawyer kick), 7:17 2Q
W – Ethan Bozarth 35 pass from Jaden Chatman (Jaden Harris pass from Jaden Chatman), 0:34 2Q
J – Ron Wiggins 2 run (Noah Sawyer kick), 7:06 3Q
J – Jaeden Barksdale 45 punt return (Noah Sawyer kick), 6:38 4Q

Ethan Bozarth (2) gets behind the Jacksonville defense to score a White Plains touchdown.

Hokes Bluff keeps pace – barely

CENTRE – The Cherokee County Warriors gave second-ranked Hokes Bluff all it could handle, but fell just short of pulling the upset in a 21-17 Class 4A, Region 6 football setback.

Cherokee County (3-5, 2-4) scored on its first two possessions to grab a 14-0 lead and led 17-14 with 8:08 to play, but Darrian Meads put the Eagles ahead for good on an 11-yard run with 2:18 to play.

Meads ran for 200 yards on 29 carries and scored all three Hokes Bluff touchdowns.

It took the Warriors just three plays to get on the scoreboard as sophomore quarterback Slade Alexander found senior receiver Julian Latty all alone on the left side of the field for an easy 40-yard touchdown pass. Their next score came from some bruising goal-line running from junior running back Kendrick Fife, who took it in from a yard out. Martin Maier converted both extra points.

“We played our tails off,” Warrior head coach Tripp Curry said. “I know it’s a loss, but this is the proudest I’ve been of the team all year. We had a game plan, and we executed it well tonight.”

The Eagles (8-0, 6-0) found their footing late in the first quarter, with junior running back Meads sparking his team on a long 58-yard touchdown rush. Meads scored again in the second quarter — this time on a 4-yard run. Eagle kicker Ethan Whitcomb converted on the PAT to even the score at 14 at halftime.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but in the fourth Maier gave the Warriors the lead on a clutch 23-yard field goal to make the score 17-14 with 8:08 left in regulation.

The Eagles promptly began a slow march down the field on their next drive, capped by Meads’ 11-yard run.

With one final possession to pull off the upset, the Warriors advanced into Hokes Bluff territory, but an interception sealed the win for the Eagles.

Alexander threw for 121 yards on 11-of-17 passing; he added 81 yards rushing on 19 carries. Senior running back Caden Hubbard collected 100 rushing yards on just nine carries. – Grant Benefield

Hokes Bluff 21, Cherokee County 17
Team stats HB CC

First downs 18 15
Rushes-yds 39-242 34-192
Passes 4-9-1 11-17-1
Passing yds 37 121
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-avg 2-36.5 3-32.3
Penalties-yds 3-30 3-30

Scoring summary
Hokes Bluff 7 7 0 7 – 21
Cherokee County 14 0 0 3 – 17

C – Julian Latty 40 pass from Slade Alexander (Martin Maier kick), 10:44 1Q
C – Kendrick Fife 1 run (Martin Maier kick), 4:06 1Q
HB – Darrian Meads 58 run (Ethan Whitcomb kick), 3:42 1Q
HB – Darrian Meads 4 run (Ethan Whitcomb kick), 11:23 2Q
C – Martin Maier 25 FG, 8:08 4Q
HB – Darrian Meads 11 run (Ethan Whitcomb kick), 2:18 4Q

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