E.A. Sports Today

Saks surges

Wildcats use rare back-to-back safeties, stout defense to win big, set sights on playoff rematch with Randolph County

Saks’ Tony Hunley (23) pulls down Fultondale quarterback Jacon Davis for a sack with teammates racing in to help finish the job. On the cover, Johnathon Cobb leads the pack on a sprint to the end zone. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By John Mitchell
For East Alabama Sports Today

To see a gallery of picture from the game, click on the link www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

Led by their defense and some timely kicking, the Saks Wildcats turned in a dominant 38-14 win over Fultondale in the second round of the AHSAA playoffs Friday night.

On a night when the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, Saks (10-1) needed their defense and special teams to lead the charge, and got big plays from both to key the victory and set up a rematch at region rival Randolph County in the third round. The Tigers handed Saks its only loss of the season.

Saks’ front seven overwhelmed Fultondale (9-2) from the opening whistle, holding it to minus-5 yards rushing and forcing it into uncomfortable third-and-longs that allowed the homestanding Wildcats to pin their ears back and harass the quarterback.

“We made them one-dimensional,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “We were tough to block up front, and that was the key to the game.”

Saks got off to a quick start offensively, thanks to some early special teams miscues by Fultondale, a recurring theme throughout the game.

The Wildcats scored on their first offensive snap following Fultondale’s long snapper sailing the ball over his punter’s head. Senior T.J. Gibbs took a handoff 15 yards for the game’s first touchdown. After a short Fultondale punt, they took the ball 49 yards on seven plays, capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by junior Tony Hunley.

The lone bright spot on offense for Fultondale was junior quarterback Javon Davis, who threw for 203 yards, including a beautiful 48-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Joe Joe Hamaker to pull his team within a touchdown in the second quarter.

A 29-yard field goal from Anthony Cornejo gave Saks a 17-7 lead going into the half, but it was the senior’s punting that swung the momentum in the third quarter and allowed his team to get some breathing room and ultimately put the game away.

He pinned Fultondale inside its own 10-yard-line on consecutive punts to open the second half, leading to something Miller had never seen in his coaching career – back-to-back safeties.

“I’ve been coaching for 18 years and it was the first time,” he said. “They were having a tough time running the ball all night, and I thought if we could pin them down there we could maybe get a safety – and we got two of them.”

The first came thanks to the defense, which racked up three consecutive tackles-for-loss. On the third, junior Tyler Smith and senior Marreo Thomas converged on Davis for a sack in the end zone.

On the second, a pair of stuffed runs, a delay of game penalty and an incomplete pass forced Fultondale to punt from its own endzone. For the second time, the long snapper sent the ball sailing over his punter’s head, this time out of the back of the end zone.

“I had to get it down there and put my team in a good spot,” Cornejo said about his punts. “Then the defense put us up and made plays.”

Leading 21-7 at that point, Saks was looking for the knockout blow, and got it from the guy who has delivered haymaker after haymaker to opponents this season.

On the first play after the free kick from the second safety, senior running back Johnathon Cobb took the ball around the outside, and threw a forceful stiff-arm to the one Fultondale defender who had a shot at making a play, sending him straight down toward the earth’s core as he raced for a 49-yard touchdown that clinched it.

“When I broke through the line of scrimmage I had to break (one) tackle,” said Cobb. “I felt like I couldn’t speed up, so I just had to try and overpower the man I saw in front of me.”

Cobb was bottled up for most of the night until that point, but still led the charge for his team with 137 yards rushing, keying a ground attack that accumulated 281 yards.

Randolph County’s win at Geraldine set up the Class 3A Region 6 rematch in the quarterfinals. Back in October, the Tigers hammered Saks 41-21 in a game that knocked the Wildcats from the No. 1 team in state down to the No. 3 team in their own region.

In the first meeting at Jack Stewart Field, Saks fell behind three touchdowns before it really knew what him them. That performance has provided motivation, and in the midst of the jubilation that comes with a playoff victory it was clear the Wildcats were already turning their attention toward next week.

“We want to play them,” said Cobb. “We want our revenge.”

While it was clear that Cobb and his teammates are itching for another crack at Randolph County, their head coach offered a more tempered take:

“I hope we make them break a sweat this time,” said Miller. “Randolph County is an excellent football team; I know we’re going to go down there and play our hearts out.”

Saks 38, Fultondale 14
Team stats Fult Saks

First downs 9 14
Rushes-yds 23-(-5) 49-281
Passes 18-29-0 2-4-1
Passing yds 203 17
Fumbles-lost 4-3 2-1
Punts-avg 4-30.0 3-33.3
Penalties-yds 2-15 3-15

Scoring summary
Fultondale 0 7 0 7 – 14
Saks 14 3 11 10 – 38

S – T.J. Gibbs 15 run (Anthony Cornejo kick), 6:40 1Q
S – Tony Hunley 4 run (Anthony Cornejo) kick), 2:41 1Q
F – Joe Joe Hamaker 48 pass from Javon Davis (Jonathan Aguilar kick), 11:50 2Q
S – Anthony Cornejo 29 FG, 8:08 2Q
S – Team Safety, 9:21 3Q
S – Team Safety, 5:35 3Q
S – Johnathon Cobb 49 run (Anthony Cornejo kick), 5:15 3Q
S – Anthony Cornejo 30 FG, 9:05 4Q
S – Quan Garrett 13 run (Anthony Cornejo kick), 6:12 4Q
F – Cam Silmon 65 fumble return (Jonathan Aguilar kick), 1:50 4Q

Saks’ Jaylen Childs, a Troy commitment, provides a big obstacle for Fultondale quarterback Jacon Davis to throw around. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

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