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Defense dominates as Blue Eagles fall, 14-7

By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
The Clarke County Bulldogs rolled into W.S. Neal Stadium Friday night and placed themselves squarely back into the Region 1 playoff picture with a 14-7 win over the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles.
The Bulldogs, who entered the game with a disappointing 1-2 regional record and faced an almost must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive, kept the Neal defense on its heels throughout the game with a mixture of runs and passes. In addition, Clarke County contained the Blue Eagles' offense for most of the contest, limiting the Blue Eagles to only 160 total yards.
The Bulldogs drew first blood with a 79-yard touchdown drive in the opening minutes of the second quarter and held a 7-0 halftime lead. Neal came back to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the third quarter, but the Bulldogs answered with another touchdown drive on their next possession to open a 14-7 lead that held up to the end.
With the victory, Clarke County upped its season record to 2-4 and evened its regional mark to 2-2. The loss dropped Neal to 3-3 on the season and 2-2 against Region 1 competition.
Neal head coach Jim Fountain said the game was one of missed opportunities for the Blue Eagles.
The first quarter was evenly played between the two teams as reflected by the 0-0 score at the end of the period. Both offenses mounted a serious drive, but on each occasion the opposing defense stood its ground and stopped the threat.
Clarke County received the opening kickoff and put the ball in play following a return to the Bulldogs' 34-yard line.
Three straight running plays moved the football to the 49-yard line for a first down. Then, a first down pass completion was good for a 17-yard gain and another first down to the Neal 34-yard line. Craig Tagudar and a host of other Blue Eagle defenders stopped the next running play for a three-yard loss before a second down pass completion netted nine yards. Jake Bailey made consecutive clutch defensive plays from his linebacker position on the next two snaps, stopping the Clarke County ball carrier for a two-yard loss on third down and then breaking through the line on fourth down to throw the runner for a four-yard loss that ended the drive.
The Blue Eagles assumed possession on their own 30-yard line following the defensive stand and began moving the football on the ground.
Nick Benjamin picked-up nine yards on a quarterback keeper on first down and then Alphonso Gross took it up the middle for four yards for a Neal first down. Gross followed with a 13-yard gain on a toss sweep to the left. With first down from the Bulldogs' 44-yard line, three more running plays came up three yards short of the first down before Neal elected to punt the ball.
On the opening drive of the second quarter, and with the contest locked in a scoreless tie, Clarke County began a drive from its 21-yard line that ended with the game's initial score.
Twelve plays, one of which was a Neal roughing the punter penalty, fueled the drive that saw Clarke County move the ball to the Blue Eagle 36-yard line. On the next snap, the Clarke County quarterback found a receiver in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The PAT was good and gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 7:05 remaining in the half.
As time expired before intermission, the Blue Eagles were knocking on the door and threatened to tie the game. A drive that began from the Neal 36-yard line proceeded down the field to the Clarke County 7-yard line. With time about to expire, the Blue Eagles attempted a field goal that was wide of the mark and kept the 7-0 Bulldog advantage intact as the teams headed to the locker room.
On their second possession of the third quarter, Neal tied the game on a short scoring drive after assuming control of the ball on the Clarke County 33-yard line.
Benjamin kept the football from his quarterback position for a 19-yard gain on first down. Gross gained seven yards on the following play and then covered the remaining seven yards on the next snap into the end zone. Benjamin's PAT split the uprights to tie the game, 7-7, with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs answered on their next possession to assume the lead that they would hold the remainder of the game.
Beginning from their 36-yard line following a return of the Blue Eagles' kickoff, the Bulldogs mounted a nine-play, 54-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 10-yard run for a touchdown. The successful PAT made the score 14-7 with 2:37 showing on the clock in the third quarter.
A big Neal defensive play on the first snap of the fourth quarter put the Blue Eagles in position to tie the game.
With Clarke County threatening again at the Neal 23-yard line, Cory Freeman and Kendreal Williams combined to force a fumble that Chris Johnson picked-up and returned all the way to the Bulldogs' 15-yard line. But, Clarke County stepped-up and held the Blue Eagles out of the end zone, forcing a fourth down pass incompletion from the 10-yard line.
With just under four minutes left in the game, the Blue Eagles blocked a punt that put them in business once again at their 49-yard line.
Gross and Benjamin runs moved the ball down to the Clarke County 20-yard line. But, the drive went backward from there as a running play lost a yard before a screen pass was sniffed-out by the Bulldogs for an 11-yard loss. Facing fourth down and 22 to go, the Blue Eagles' hopes ended with a Clarke County sack of Benjamin on a last-second pass attempt.