E.A. Sports Today

Big play Bulldogs

Anniston grabs momentum right before halftime

By Shannon Fagan/Special to East Alabama Sports Today

CENTRE – It was a backbreaking play the Cherokee County Warriors never recovered from, and it happened just before halftime.

After being pinned at the 1-yard line and trailing by a point, Anniston senior quarterback Daveon Dukes connected with Tyree Carmichael on a 56-yard touchdown pass with 14.5 seconds left in the first half. Senior running back A.J. Brown ran in the ensuing 2-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a seven-point lead at halftime.

The Bulldogs then played ball control in the third quarter, eating up almost 6 ½ minutes on a 14-play drive. Although the drive didn’t yield any points (kicker Kevin Escareno missed a 31-yard field goal), it forced the Warriors out of their comfort zone.

And the Bulldog defense sensed it. 

They forced Warrior junior quarterback Slade Alexander to throw three interceptions – two of which were snagged by senior defensive back Tony Hunley Jr. – in a 27-7 decision in the Class 4A, Region 6 opener for both teams.

“That was big. It was a momentum shift,” Anniston coach Rico White said of Carmichael’s touchdown right before halftime. “It’s a play we’ve been working on. The quarterback saw it. I saw it, and they just executed it. One good thing was Carmichael was the quarterback, now we’ve got Dukes at quarterback. It makes the play work even better because they really know how to do it. It worked well.”

Dukes completed 9-of-14 pass attempts for 129 yards and a score. He also carried the ball 11 times for 54 yards and a touchdown.

First-year Warrior coach Jacob Kelley knew the Warriors (1-1, 0-1) couldn’t give up big plays to the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0), especially after pinning them deep late in the first half.

“We felt like we were in pretty good shape there,” Kelley said. “We had a chance to pin them down there deep and possibly get another shot at it. At worst, we were thinking we were going into the half up 7-6, but we slipped up and let them get some breathing room. The next thing you know we had a busted assignment and gave up a big play. 

“We knew going in that was one of the things we were going to have to stop. We couldn’t let them get loose. It just seemed like that was the turning point in the game. We just weren’t able to come back after that.”

Senior running back A.J. Brown led Anniston with 102 yards on 14 carries with two scores, including the game’s first touchdown on the Bulldogs’ first drive of the night. He capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive by lining up in the Wildcat formation and taking it in from three yards out. His rush for the 2-point conversion was stopped short, keeping Anniston’s lead at 6-0 with 6:25remaining in the first quarter.

Cherokee County fumbled on its first series, which was recovered by Jordan Caldwell, but the Warrior defense forced the Bulldogs to punt.

The Warriors put together a long drive of their own beginning at their own 12. They marched 83 yards in 13 plays, with the final 27 coming on an Alexander scramble into the end zone. Daniel Mejia’s kick gave the Warriors a 7-6 lead with 7:22 remaining in the first half.

Both teams exchanged punts, with the latter forcing Anniston to go 99 yards for the go-ahead score.

After another Warrior punt to begin the third quarter, the Bulldogs went on another long drive. This one, however, kept the Warrior offense on the sideline until 1:53 left in the quarter.

“The next thing I knew we were in the fourth,” Kelley said. “It just kind of got us out of rhythm on offense.”

Alexander threw his first interception to Hunley Jr. just before the third quarter ended. Anniston cashed the turnover into a Dukes 22-yard touchdown run. Kevin Escareno’s extra point pushed the Bulldog lead to 21-7 with 10:04 left in the game.

On Cherokee County’s next offensive play, Alexander was picked off again by Caldwell, but the Warrior defense forced the Bulldogs to punt.

Another Warrior drive stalled deep in their own territory. On fourth down, Warrior punter Dalton Rollins attempted a fake, but the Bulldogs snuffed it out inside the 15-yard line. After a penalty pushed Anniston back to the Warrior 29, two Brown runs of 15 and 14 yards yielded another Bulldog touchdown.

Hunley Jr. sealed the game with his second interception on the Warriors’ final drive.

“Toward the end, it got to a situation where we had to take some shots down the field,” Kelley said. “Probably a few of them weren’t the best decisions, but at the end of the day, we had to take some shots down the field and we’ve got to make plays. We didn’t help ourselves out. We had some dropped passes. We’ve just got to get better.”

Alexander completed just 3-of-13 pass attempts for 40 yards with the three picks. He also ran for 86 yards on 14 carries with the Warriors’ lone score. Senior running back Kendrick Fife finished with 66 yards on 18 carries for Cherokee County.

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of Cherokee County Herald

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