E.A. Sports Today

J’ville stays perfect

Golden Eagles set record with 11th victory, but Smith knows they’ll have to play cleaner the deeper they go into the playoffs

Jacksonville receiver Jewels Gray (15) looks to pick up some yardage against Rogers in Friday’s Class 4A playoff game. On the cover, Ron Wiggins had another big game. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

To see a gallery of photos from the game visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

By John Mitchell
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always pretty, but Jacksonville overcame a bevy of mistakes to knock off Rogers (7-4) 39-21 in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs on Friday night.

The Golden Eagles (11-0) racked up double-digit penalties and turned the ball over three times, but powered through thanks to a litany of big plays and the performance of their workhorse junior tailback Rontarius Wiggins.

Jacksonville’s Jewels Gray (15) knocks Rogers’ Clay Crafton (10) off his feet. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Wiggins accounted for 300 total yards of offense – 246 rushing, 54 receiving – and scored five touchdowns, once again putting the Golden Eagles on his back and carrying them to a school-record 11th victory.

“He’s been solid all year,” Jacksonville head coach Clint Smith said. “He’s got great speed and vision, and our guys up front made some holes for him and he was able to break some.”

Following a stand at the goal line defensively, Wiggins got the scoring started with a 95-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. After Rogers answered with an impressive touchdown drive of its own to put Jacksonville behind 7-6, Wiggins answered the bell with a 10-yard touchdown run that put the Golden Eagles up for good.

Perhaps the biggest play of the game, however, was made by Wiggins’ teammate, junior Jaeden Barksdale.

With Jacksonville leading just 12-7 late in the second quarter, Barksdale dangerously picked up a punt off the bounce with a Pirates defender right in his face. He shook off the tackle and promptly took the ball 65 yards for a backbreaking score that gave Jacksonville a two-touchdown lead – and some breathing room –
heading into the locker room.

Wiggins delivered the knockout blow on the first drive of the second half. He snagged a swing pass out of the air from junior quarterback Luke Jackson with one hand and then took it 54 yards for a touchdown to give the Golden Eagles a 26-7 lead.

Rogers was never able to get within single digits from there, but it did have the ball with the lead cut to 11 halfway through the fourth quarter. Any shred of hope the Pirates had was taken away when sophomore Jaylon Prater ripped the ball from Nicholas Buttrum on the first play after they gained possession.

Five plays later and Wiggins was in the endzone for the fifth and final time to ice the win.

“Big play by Prater taking the ball away,” said Smith. “We knew coming in that Rogers was a big, physical team – especially up front. We knew it was going to be a war in the trenches.”

Rogers fought hard, and actually matched Jacksonville with 248 rushing yards. Barksdale’s punt return and Wiggins’ touchdown reception ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.

Disappointment filled the air on the Rogers sideline as the reality of the season being over sunk in. A sense of pride also began to emanate when the dust settled, however, as the coaching staff reflected on the strides their young team made this season after graduating 19 seniors from a year ago.

“We weren’t supposed to be any good,” said first year head coach Jerry Fulks. “I’m super proud of the effort and the resiliency they showed the entire year.”

For Jacksonville to be able to continue its special season, it will have to clean up some miscues from this game moving forward. The usually steady Luke Jackson was intercepted three times and the team was whistled for 11 penalties, mostly of the procedural variety. As the competition stiffens, those kinds of mistakes could very well be the difference between winning and going home.

“We’ve got to contain our penalties and just execute and line up right,” said Smith. “A lot of things you just take for granted this time of the year and just assume is going to happen.”

This is the sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs for the Golden Eagles, but they’ve yet to make it past the second round. The competition will be fierce next week as they look to exercise their playoff demons.

Jacksonville will have to go on the road to Cullman to take on No. 3 seed Good Hope, which easily dispatched St. John Paul II Catholic 62-28 on the road. The ninth-raned Raiders (10-1) are an extremely tough draw for Jacksonville as the Raiders actually finished in a tie for first in 4A, Region 5, but were relegated to the No. 3 seed due to losing out on a three-team tiebreaker with Northside and Fayette County.

“We’re trying to make history,” said Wiggins. “We’ve just got to work hard in the weight room, the classroom, and on the practice field.”

Jacksonville 39, Rogers 21
Team stats Rog Jax

First downs 15 14
Rushes-Yds 44-248 31-248
Passes 3-7-0 10-13-3
Passing yds 26 127
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Punts-avg 3-32.0 1-33.0
Penalties-yds 4-35 11-75

Scoring Summary
Rogers 0 7 7 7 – 21
Jacksonville 6 14 12 7 – 39

J – Ron Wiggins 95 run (conversion failed), 2:18 1Q
R – Nicholas Buttrum 13 run (Dylan Myrick kick), 11:11 2Q
J – Ron Wiggins 10 run (conversion failed), 8:05 2Q
J – Jaeden Barksdale 65 punt return (Taye Loud pass from Luke Jackson), 5:13 2Q
J – Ron Wiggins 54 pass from Luke Jackson (conversion failed), 10:40 3Q
R – Zion Black 80 run (Dylan Myrick kick), 4:51 3Q
J – Ron Wiggins 11 run (kick failed), 3:02 3Q
R – Alex Rogers 6 run (Dylan Myrick kick), 9:01 4Q
J – Ron Wiggins 6 run (Noah Sawyer kick), 3:59 4Q

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