E.A. Sports Today

Saks to the semis

Wildcats use ball-control offense, ‘lights out’ defense to get past three-time reigning champion Fyffe and set up 3A semifinal rematch with Piedmont

In a game where stops were critical to Saks’ success, Jashaun Prothro (18) moves in to wrap up Fyffe’s Kyle Dukes. (Photo by Bo Hudgins)

By Glendon Poe
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

FYFFE – Jonathan Miller had a feeling his Saks football team would have a good game on the defensive side of the ball.

After going through an eye-opening experience that almost put them out of the playoffs in the first round, the Wildcats have upped their focus to detail.

They needed every bit of it in their Class 3A quarterfinal game against one of the best programs in the state and they delivered on several occasions in a 14-7 victory at Fyffe.

“Any time you go on the road this late in the year and win a playoff game, it’s a big deal,” Miller said. “Especially with it being a seasoned team like Fyffe that has been there, done that for many years.

“It’s’ a big win for our kids. They prepared well all week. We played hard and got after it. We just made a couple more plays than they did.”

When the Fyffe Red Devils are playing at home, head coach Paul Benefield always likes their chances.

Even when the Red Devils trailed 8-0 at halftime — something the Big Red Machine hasn’t done all season — the veteran head coach knew the game was still up for grabs.

But Wildcats quarterback Sean Parnell’s second-half rushing effort allowed the Region 5 champions to chew up time and ultimately upset the three-time reigning champions.

“When your kids play hard and do the best they can do and you finish 10-2 in the quarterfinals, you have to be proud of them,” Benefield said. “…There’ll be another day for Fyffe.”

Another day for the Wildcats (12-1) comes Friday when they host region rival Piedmont (10-2) in the semifinals. It will be Saks’ first trip to the semis since 2017 and third in Miller’s tenure.

The Bulldogs won the regular-season meeting between the teams 28-12, but Saks hasn’t lost since. The Wildcats are riding a 10-game winning streak into the game.

After passing for much of the first half, the Wildcats began the third quarter with nothing but run plays, controlling the clock in the process. Following a Fyffe turnover on downs, Saks took possession at the Red Devils’ 49-yard line. 

The Wildcats used a 10-play drive that spanned 8 minutes, ending with a Parnell 2-yard touchdown dive on third-and-goal. The ensuing 2-point conversion run attempt failed and the visitors led 14-0 with 3:48 left in the third.

Following a punt early in the fourth, the Red Devils traveled 41 yards in 10 plays on their next series and Kyle Dukes rushed up the middle for a 2-yard score with 5:20 to play in regulation. Yahir Balcazar’s extra-point kick pulled Fyffe within seven.

Parnell and the Saks offense went back to work ticking time off the clock with run play after run play and a key first-down throw to Shon Elston for a 13-yard pickup with 4 minutes left. A Parnell first-down run of 2 yards at the 1:13 mark sealed the win.

Parnell completed 15 of 24 passes in the game for 124 yards and was Saks’ leading rusher with 83 yards on 20 carries. Another Iron Man performance.

“(The Wildcats) were too big and physical for us at times, and when we had a chance to do something, we’d stomp our toes a little bit,” Benefield said. “We had a few things we’d schemed up during the week that we thought might work, but it was just a game of opportunities and they really controlled the line of scrimmage.

“They were the best team tonight. Our guys played hard, but you just lose sometimes.”

In the first half, Parnell’s 4-yard scoring run capped an 11-play, 62-yard drive that included a pair of third-down conversions. Parnell found Deniro Goode for a 10-yard gain on third-and-6 from Fyffe’s 34-yard line before the touchdown.

After the Wildcats were flagged for a false start ahead of their 2-point attempt, Parnell hit Goode flying across the end zone for the conversion and an 8-0 lead with 1:51 remaining in the opening period.

Saks fumbled twice and Fyffe fumbled once during the first half, but neither side managed to turn them into points.

Logan Anderson recovered a Wildcat fumble on the Red Devils’ 31. But Fyffe’s ensuing drive ended in a punt. 

Fyffe blocked a punt by pushing a Saks player into the ball at the 8:46 mark of the second quarter to start on Saks’ 12-yard line. Dukes tried to punch the ball across on fourth-and-goal from the 4, but Parnell came racing out of the pile of players with the ball. He returned it to Fyffe’s 37.

Fyffe’s Tucker Wilks also recovered a fumbled catch at the Red Devils’ 3. But Fyffe was unable to produce a score from it, turning the ball over on downs with 54 seconds until halftime.

The Wildcats made four fourth-down stops in the game and held Fyffe to a 3-for-12 third-down conversion rate.

“I think it started in practice this week; our kids paid a lot of attention to detail,” Miller said. “We had a good week of practice and I had a pretty good idea we’d play pretty solid on that side of the ball.

“We tried to get across to them every stop we got our chances go up five or 10 percent. We just tried to sell them on getting stops and our chances would increase with every one.

“The big thing for us was when they got in the red zone we just turned it up a notch or two. We were determined we were going to make them fight for every inch. They broke through there but we made them earn it.”

Glendon Poe is sports editor of The Times-Journal in Fort Payne.

Cover photo: Fyffe’s Brodie Hicks (22) pursues Saks quarterback Sean Parnell during the first half of Friday night’s Class 3A quarterfinals playoff game. (Photo by Glendon Poe)

The swarming Saks defense held Fyffe to 178 yards rushing, 184 yards total and kept it out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter. (Photo by Bo Hudgins)

Saks 14, Fyffe 7

Saks (12-1)8060 –14
Fyffe (10-2)0007 –7

S – Sean Parnell 3 run (Deniro Goode pass from Sean Parnell), 1:51 1Q
S – Sean Parnell 2 run (run failed), 3:48 3Q
F – Kyle Dukes 2 run (Yahir Balcazar kick), 5:20 4Q

Saks (14)Fyf (7)
181st Downs8

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