E.A. Sports Today

Donoho dominates

Streaking Falcons look sharp heading into playoffs as they close regular season with third straight shutout, fifth straight win

Donoho’s Rod Elston (6) rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns Friday night against Woodland. On the cover, Falcons quarterback Hall Billings (7) runs behind the blocking of Ray Hanley. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

Click on this link www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com to see a photo gallery from tonight’s game

By John Mitchell
For East Alabama Sports Today

On a bitterly cold night where the wind seeped in and set in your bones, Donoho, having already clinched the No. 2 seed in Class 1A Region 5 and a home playoff date with Coosa Christian next week, could have easily looked past its opponent Friday night.

Instead, the Falcons (8-2) continued their recent run of dominance, bludgeoning Woodland 56-0 to earn their third consecutive shutout victory.

Over that three game span, Donoho has manhandled its opponents to the tune of 153-0, building plenty of momentum heading into the postseason. After losing 16-0 to 1A Region 5 champion Spring Garden in September, the Falcons have gone 5-0 and outscored their opponents 240-32.

“Our defense has played lights out this year,” Falcons head coach Mark Sanders said. “The momentum of having three shutouts in a row is huge going into the playoffs.”

The Donoho defense swarmed the Bobcats (2-8) from the opening whistle, holding them to just 25 yards on 40 plays. And even after coming out of the locker room up 28-0, and after recognition for all the seniors, the defense refused to let up, holding Woodland to minus-10 net yards over the final 24 minutes of action.

They managed 13 tackles-for-loss and an interception, consistently dominating at the point-of-attack.

Offensively, they scored early and often, pounding the Bobcats on the ground for more than 300 yards rushing, and keeping them off-balance with well-executed screen passes and crossing routes in the passing game.

The night got off to an inauspicious start with Donoho fumbling the opening kickoff that allowed Woodland to take over in Falcons territory right away. As it did all night, the defense came up with a big stop – a sack on a fourth down ending Woodland’s only serious scoring threat of the night.

The Donoho offense took it from there, going on a methodical 10-play touchdown drive and never looking back.

Sophomore running back Rod Elston led the charge, rushing for 162 yards on 12 carries, and punching in three touchdowns; most of his damage came in the first half before ceding way to his understudies.

“My line was opening up a lot of holes,” said Elston. “They were just doing a great job blocking for me.”

Senior quarterback Hall Billings was a perfect 11-of-11 passing for 85 yards and three touchdown passes in an almost effortless performance from the offense that marched up and down the field at will, dictating the tempo of the game. The team was 13-of-13 through the air.

Donoho scored on eight of its 10 total possessions, punting once and having the first half mercifully end to prevent it from inflicting further damage to an overmatched opponent.

In the aftermath of another blowout victory, Sanders preached to his team about the real season starting today, looking ahead to Coosa Christian. But he also wanted his players to enjoy this moment, letting this accomplishment soak in as much as the water had soaked through his shirt from the postgame ice-bath his players gave him.

The cold water in the frigid temperatures didn’t dampen his mood in the slightest as he led his team through songs and cheers, relishing every moment as long as they could.

Through a tumultuous 2017 season – his first with the school – Donoho managed to win just two games. Sanders’ confidence – and the support from his players – never wavered through the ups and downs and now he has the Falcons in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“From day one, they believed in everything that I was trying to build when I got here,” said Sanders. “I told them last year to stay in it and keep working, to do the little things right. They’ve been through a lot. It’s an awesome turnaround and I love every single one of these guys.”

This season has been a special one, particularly for a group of seniors who will get to experience the playoffs for the first time. The Falcons won just seven games over their three previous seasons – a number they bested in just this season alone.

Donoho is a close-knit group, a family more than a team. There’s no selfishness among its players; they all feel as just one-of-11 out there on the gridiron, wanting to do a good job for their brothers next to them so they can look one another in the eye after with no regrets.

It’s that bond that produced a dramatic six-win turnaround from a year ago, and it’s that bond that could carry Donoho to a deep playoff run.

“We preach that to them all the time,” said Sanders. “Just carrying that love for each another, that great teamwork, that family.”

“It’s all about doing your one-elevens,” Elston said. “If we keep on playing like we did, we’ll get there.”

Donoho 56, Woodland 0
Team stats Wood Don

First downs 4 17
Rushes-yds 32-17 30-302
Passes 1-8-1 13-13-0
Passing yds (-1) 135
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-avg 8-30.8 1-29.0
Penalties-yds 1-5 4-40

Scoring Summary
Woodland 0 0 0 0 – 0
Donoho 14 14 14 14 – 56

D – William Nelson 5 pass from Hall Billings (Yash Patel kick), 4:09 1Q
D – Rod Elston 67 run (Yash Patel kick), 1:33 1Q
D – Blake Steed 7 pass from Hall Billings (Yash Patel kick), 10:10 2Q
D – Rod Elston 1 run (Yash Patel kick), 3:25 2Q
D – Rod Elston 10 run (Yash Patel kick), 5:39 3Q
D – Amarion Smedley 15 pass from Hall Billings (Yash Patel kick), 0:17 3Q
D – Blake Steed 21 pass from Norman Hopkins (Yash Patel kick), 8:07 4Q
D – William Nelson 5 run (Yash Patel kick), 1:51 4Q

Donoho’s Edwin Connell (52) brings pressure against the Woodland quarterback. Donoho’s defense didn’t give the Bobcats any room to breathe, recording 13 tackles for losses and holding them to 16 yards net offense.

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