Homecoming win gives Neal Playoff berth
Fifth straight victory is 63-6 romp against Calhoun Tigers
By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Goal number one was to win the game. Goal number two was to avoid injuries. Goal number three was to reduce their number of penalties.
The W.S. Neal Blue Eagles accomplished all that with their 63-6 Homecoming triumph over the Calhoun Tigers on a rain-soaked W.S. Neal Stadium Field Friday.
"We accomplished pretty much everything we wanted to do. Our number one goal was to win, but we also wanted to get better. I think we did that," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said.
By the way, the win also assured the Blue Eagles (4-1 in region play and 6-1 overall) a spot in the Class 3A playoffs.
"We're happy about that, but we don't want to be content by just making the playoffs. We want to improve our seed," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles scored in just about every feasible way. They had touchdowns by rushing and passing on offense, by fumble recovery and interception returns on defense, and a punt return on special teams.
Granted, some of that was probably expected against a Calhoun team that slipped to 0-6 in region play and 0-7 overall. The Tigers have been outscored 362-29 on the season, 147-6 the last two weeks.
"I give our assistant coaches a lot of credit for keeping our players focused on Calhoun. That wasn't easy to do against an 0-6 team on Homecoming week and with Straughn and T.R. Miller coming up the next two weeks," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal had the game well in hand before the first half was over. The Blue Eagles racked up 28 points in the opening frame and added two touchdowns to that total in the second quarter for a 42-6 halftime advantage.
Although halftime featured a fireworks display, the fireworks really began on the first play from scrimmage when W.S. Neal's Jake Bailey broke loose for a 54-yard run. That eventually set up a four-yard touchdown run by Laphonso Gross. Spencer Williamson's point after kick was no good, which left the Blue Eagles' lead at 6-0 with 9:53 left in the opening frame.
Calhoun's Ardestra Quinn erased that lead over the next 13 seconds when he returned the kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers also missed their conversion kick, which left the score even at 6-6.
From that point on, it was all W.S. Neal. The Blue Eagles regained the lead on their next possession when Marquis Barksdale hooked up with Bailey on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Gross added a two-point conversion run that extended W.S. Neal's lead to 14-6 with 5:10 left in the first quarter.
Gross picked up the second of his three touchdowns on the night when he returned a punt down the sideline 54 yards for a touchdown. Williamson converted his PAT kick to make it 21-6 with 3:06 left in the opening frame.
W.S. Neal's first quarter scoring was not done yet. With 45 seconds left, Barksdale connected with Marcus Folmar on a 19-yard touchdown pass. Williamson's PAT kick made it 28-6.
W.S. Neal's defense started contributing to the scoring in the second quarter. Chris Johnson recovered a fumble by Calhoun's Dominick Taylor at the Tigers' four-yard line. It was the first of five turnovers created by the Blue Eagles' defense.
Two plays later, Cory Freeman covered that distance on a run for a touchdown. Josh Danley stepped in for Williamson and booted the PAT to make it 35-6 just 14 seconds into the second quarter.
Another fumble by the Tigers set up an 18-yard touchdown run by Gross with two minutes left in the half. Danley's PAT kick made it 42-6.
Despite W.S. Neal's big halftime lead, its starting offensive unit had little work in the first half. Smothers planned to give his starters one more series at the start of the third quarter. Those plans changed when the Blue Eagles scored 14 points on defense before their offense even touched the ball in the third quarter.
Roc Herbert scored his third defensive touchdown in three weeks when he scooped up a fumble by Calhoun's Akeem Melton and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. Another Danley PAT made it 49-6.
Moments later Taylor had a pass intercepted and returned 15 yards for another touchdown. Danley's conersion kick made it 56-6.
"I don't think anybody would have said anything if we had let our offensive starters play the first series of the third quarter with a 42-6 lead. When you're up 56-6 and send the starters back in, then it looks like you're running up the score. Our starters needed some work and they didn't get as much as I would have liked in this game," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal's offense actually failed to score in the second half, while its defense produced 21 points. The last score was a 14-yard fumble recovery return by Robin Travis with 4:17 to go. Danley's PAT kick accounted for the final point.
The Blue Eagles will take a five-game winning streak to Straughn next Friday for a key Region 1 game. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Both W.S. Neal and Straughn stand one game behind Region 1 co-leaders T.R. Miller and Pike County, which square off next week.
"It's a huge game. The winner moves into a tie for second place and the loser drops to fourth. The playoff spots have been decided in our region now. Now we go for seeding," Smothers said.
At W.S. Neal
Calhoun 6 0 0 0 – 6
W.S. Neal 28 14 14 7 – 63
W.S. NEAL- Gross 4 yard run (kick failed)
CALHOUN- Quinn 84 yard kickoff return (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 7 yard pass from Barksdale (Gross run)
W.S. NEAL- Gross 54 yard punt return (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Folmar 19 yard pass from Barksdale (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Freeman 4 yard run (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Gross 18 yard run (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Herbert 29 yard fumble recovery return (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- 15 yard interception return (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Travis 14 yard fumble recovery return (Danley kick)
First downs: W.S. Neal 14, Calhoun 3
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal 1-5, Calhoun 0-5
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 1-2, Calhoun 0-2
Total yards: W.S. Neal 281 (241 rushing, 40 passing), Calhoun 37 (37 rushing, 0 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- Gross 7-94 2 TD, Bailey 3-75, Rob. Travis 6-36 1TD, Ron. Travis 3-18, Folmar 4-9, McCreary 3-8, Andrews 1-4, Freeman 1-2, Barksdale 2-(-5); Calhoun- Lamar 8-49, Melton 4-19, Taylor 2-4, Simmington 3-(-4)
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 4-56-40 2TD, Andrews 0-2-0; Calhoun- Taylor 0-7-0 2INT, Braxton 0-1-0
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Folmar 2-26 1TD, Bailey 2-14 1TD; Calhoun- none
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- none; Calhoun- Melton 3-83, 27.7 avg.
Penalties: W.S. Neal 2-15, Calhoun 2-10