E.A. Sports Today

Golden champions

Jacksonville comes from behind to edge Hokes Bluff and win its first region football championship since 1999

Jacksonville’s Omarion Adams (1) moves in to disrupt Ethan Whitcomb’s potential game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of Friday’s game. On the cover, the Golden Eagles prepare to celebrate a region championship. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HOKES BLUFF — To hear Jacksonville coach Clint Smith tell it, the Golden Eagles won their first region football title in 19 years Friday night the old-fashioned way — they earned it.

The third-ranked Golden Eagles completed an undefeated regular season and clinched the Class 4A Region 6 championship with a 16-14 win over No. 2 Hokes Bluff in a game that was everything a region championship game should be.

Jacksonville’s last region title came in 1999 with a 9-0 regular-season team. This year’s region champions went 10-0.

It was a come-from-behind title win. The Golden Eagles trailed 14-0 and took their only lead of the night on the first play of the fourth quarter when Luke Jackson threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jewels Gray and Ron Wiggins ran in his second two-point conversion of the game.

Then it was on the Golden Eagles’ defense to maintain it. They did by wrapping up Eagles’ running back Darrian Meads, withstanding a furious final 2:30 that included Gray breaking up a pass for Braydon Hill in the end zone with 20.5 seconds left and Ethan Whitcomb’s missing a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal with 13.2 seconds to play.

“I think the best way to describe it is earned,” Smith said. “I feel like we have really earned this region championship as far as our kids making plays and doing the things they’ve had to do all year long.

“We’ve been down before at the half and this team’s always come back and did what they had to do to get the win. We talk all the time how life and football is a lot alike and you have to learn to come through adversity and when you’re faced with a tough situation you’ve got to step up and make things happen. I just feel like our kids did that. I’m really proud of them and my coaches and their hard work.”

Hokes Bluff put the Golden Eagles in a 14-0 hole by turning two Jackson turnovers – an interception and an ugly fumble – into touchdowns 26 seconds apart late in the second quarter. But Jacksonville made it 14-8 at halftime on Wiggins’ touchdown and conversion with 15 seconds left in the half.

Smith called it “a huge score that really gave us a big shot in the arm,” especially with Hokes Bluff getting the ball to start the third quarter. But the Golden Eagles stopped their hosts’ opening drive of the second half to show it meant business and set the tone for what the second half was all about.

Jackson made up for the turnovers with a strong passing performance. He was 13 of 16 in the first half, 5-for-5 in the second and threw for 238 yards. He completed his last 12 pass attempts in the game. Gray caught six passes for 107 yards.

The intensity was thick in the last 2:30 when the Eagles were driving with the hopes of breaking the Golden Eagles’ heart. Both teams were literally grabbing and clawing at each other in hopes of keeping the other from reaching the prize.

Hokes Bluff quarterback Ashton Gulledge got his team inside the red zone with less than a minute left and faced a third-and-3 from the 20 with 20.5 seconds to play. He was working with Hill against Gray all game and found along the sideline in the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t bring it down.

“It was a tough series,” Gray said. “They have a great offense and I knew they were going to fight to the end. Me and 10 (Hill) have been going one-on-one all game, so I figured they’d throw it to him a bit. It came down to one catch and I knocked the ball out. … It’s great to be region champions.”

“Jewels did an outstanding job tonight,” Smith said. “He’s been battling some sickness and just been real congested for the past couple weeks now. He was in there at halftime just coughing, but you never heard him complain. He just did a really good on both sides of the ball for us tonight and stepped up.”

The incompletion left the Eagles to try a game-winning field goal with Whitcomb, who had missed two attempts earlier in the game. Omarion Adams pressured the kick from the left side and it fell short.

“We had the block set up and I was just hoping we could get through there and make a block on it,” Smith said. “It was just one of those things where you just sit back and watch and at the end it’s kind of out of your hands.”

The game matched two of the most prolific running backs in the North Alabama. In that battle, Wiggins rushed for 103 yards to go over 2,000 for the season and Meads rushed for 218 yards to move closer to that benchmark. But the Golden Eagles held Meads to 84 yards rushing in the second half, 27 in the fourth quarter.

“I think it was a great head-to-head matchup,” Wiggins said. “Darrian Meads is a great running back, they consider me as a great running back, and it was a great game between us two.”

Jacksonville 16, Hokes Bluff 14
Team stats Jax HB

First downs 16 21
Rushes-yds 30-90 46-240
Passes 18-21-1 10-22-0
Passing yds 238 148
Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-0
Punts-avg 5-38.4 3-35.0
Penalties-yds 9-80 3-25

Scoring summary
Jacksonville 0 8 0 8 – 16
Hokes Bluff 0 14 0 0 – 14

HB – Ashton Gulledge 1 run (Ethan Whitcomb kick), 2:56 2Q
HB – Darrian Meads 46 run (Ethan Whitcomb kick), 2:30 2Q
J – Ron Wiggins 1 run (Ron Wiggins run), 0:14 2Q
J – Jewels Gray 23 pass from Luke Jackson (Ron Wiggins run), 11:53 4Q

Jacksonville’s Ron Wiggins flies into the end zone for his touchdown that got the Golden Eagles on the board right before halftime. (Photo by Greg Warren)

Jacksonville’s Sam Dingler (27) knocks prolific Hokes Bluff running back Darrian Meads off his feet to make a big stop in the second half. (Photo by Greg Warren)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login