Eagles don't fumble away first victory
By By DANIEL HODGE – Sports Writer
All things must come to an end or so it is said. That is what the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles revealed Friday when they picked up their first win of the season when they beat the visiting Slocomb Red Tops 27-20.
As they entered Friday's Class 3A Region 1 contest with the Red Tops (2-1 overall and 1-1 in Region 1), the Blue Eagles realized it would take offensive production unlike they produced the previous two weeks to have a chance at victory.
One thing W.S. Neal (1-2 overall and 1-1 in Region 1) was able to do better Friday than in the previous two weeks was running the ball. In its first two games, the Blue Eagles failed to gain over 30 yards rushing. In Friday's victory, W.S. Neal rushed for 195 yards on 39 attempts despite turning the ball over six times on fumbles.
On their first possession, the Blue Eagles surpassed their season high in rushing yards and revealed the running game would be their focus for the entire night when they marched 50 yards over eight plays. The drive would soon come to a halt after a fumbled snap on a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Slocomb was unable to take advantage of the fumble, as it too was forced to kick a field goal. Both the snap and hold were good, but the kick sailed just left of the uprights and gave the Blue Eagles the ball back on their own 20-yard line.
When W.S. Neal took over possession, it picked up right where it left off rushing the ball, as it ran five times for 30 yards. On a second down and six, the Blue Eagles had all hopes of a touchdown chance cast aside when Mario Daniel was stripped of the ball by linebacker Bernard Mitchell.
Slocomb resumed play on the W.S. Neal 39-yard line. Two Blue Eagle stops of running back Jermaine Williams in the backfield set up a third down and 21. Quarterback Reese Register dropped back and connected with Justin Myles for a 40-yard gain to the Blue Eagle 10-yard line. On a fourth and goal attempt from the five-yard line, Register ran toward the left corner of the endzone. Just as he was about to be tackled he optioned the ball to Williams, who ran untouched into the endzone for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful and left the score 6-0 with just over 2 minutes lift in the first quarter.
After a 33-yard kickoff return by Mario Daniel, the Blue Eagles started their drive from their 44-yard line. A penalty, an incompletion, and a short run left W.S. Neal facing a long third down attempt inside its own territory. Marquis Barksdale hit a wide open Dewayne Floyd down the middle of the field. Floyd was hit from the side and the ball sprung free. Several Red Tops pounced on the ball for the third lost fumble through that part of the game.
The Red Tops took over on the Blue Eagle 40-yard line looking with another chance to score off of turnover. On a third down, Myles hauled in a Register pass for 36 yards to the Blue Eagle three-yard line. For three consecutive plays, W.S. Neal's defense was able to stop the Red Tops' offense from scoring. On fourth down and goal from the two-yard line, Register connected to Williams in the middle of the endzone for a touchdown. The two-point conversion pass was good and extended the Red Tops' lead to 14-0 with 8:19 left in the first half.
The Blue Eagles gained possession in search of a touchdown before halftime. All anticipation was thrown out when Barksdale was stripped of the ball by Register after a huge gain.
After a defensive stop, W.S. Neal gave itself a golden scoring chance when it blocked Register's punt attempt and fell on the ball at the Slocomb 28.
One play later Barksdale tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Alexander. Spencer Williamson's extra point attempt was good and cut Slocomb's lead to 14-7 with 1:52 left in the second quarter.
The Blue Eagle defense kept the upper hand when it forced the Red Tops to punt on the opening drive of the second half.
With the ball deep in its own territory, W.S. Neal appeared to be in a tight spot after a shotgun snap sailed over Barksdale's head for a 20-yard loss. On second down, Barksdale launched a strike just over a Red Top defensive back's extended hands and into the arms of Mario Daniel, who scampered 78 yards for a touchdown. Slocomb was still able to cling to a 14-13 lead when Williamson's PAT kick was no good with 7:20 to go in the third frame.
On Slocomb's next possession, the Blue Eagles took advantage of what had become their misfortune all night long. On second down, Myles fumbled the football and Shaunathon Williams jumped on it at the Slocomb 30-yard line.
The Blue Eagles needed just two plays to get into the endzone thanks to the running of Mario Daniel. After Daniel broke loose for a 26-yard gain on the opening play of the possession, he ran around the left end for a four-yard touchdown with 6:07 left in the third quarter to put W.S. Neal on top for the first time in a game this season. The two-point conversion attempt completion from Barksdale to Justin Howard extended that lead to 21-14.
The Blue Eagle defense held strong once againon the ensuing Slocomb series and forced a turnover on downs when a Myles completion to Williams ended up four yards short of a first down.
The ball was marked on the Blue Eagle 23-yard line. On the first play, Mario Daniel fumbled the handoff and the Red Tops recovered at that same 23-yard line.
Slocomb was stopped on first down for an eight-yard loss. On the next play, Myles connected to Cory Crawford for a 31-yard touchdown. The Red Tops missed a chance to pull even when Wesley Aplin's extra point sailed wide of the goal posts tightening and kept W.S. Neal ahead 21-20 with 1:42 left in the third quarter.
The next possession for the Blue Eagles proved to be the best drive of the night, as they consumed 75 yards. Jake Bailey capped off the drive on a 19-yard touchdown dash into the endzone, as the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter. Bailey's score extended W.S. Neal's lead to 27-20 and it stayed there when Williamson's PAT was no good.
The fourth quarter started with both teams punting after failed third down conversions deep inside their respective territories.
Slocomb's next possession started on its own 37-yard line. After several long gains followed by a sack of quarterback Myles, the Red Tops faced a fourth and short situation. Williams ran around the left to find several Blue Eagle defenders waiting on him. Williams was stopped for no gain and that enabled W.S. Neal to take over at its own 28-yard line.
A 47-yard punt by Josh Danley left the Red Tops with field position inside their 30-yard line. On fourth down, Register's pass was picked off by Alexander on the Blue Eagle 48-yard line.
On the Blue Eagles' second play of the drive, Danley, in for an injured Barksdale, fumbled the snap and Mitchell recovered for the second time of the evening.
With just under two minutes left, the Red Tops needed to make a last minute drive. After a six-yard loss, an incompletion and a false start penalty, Slocomb was faced with a third down and long. On that third down play, Register tossed a pass that was intercepted by a leaping Jake Bailey that preserved the game and gave the Blue Eagles and Hathcock win number one.
W.S. Neal will continue region play this Friday when it travels to Headland for a 7 p.m. game. Headland was blistered 61-0 by Pike County Friday and fell to 1-2 for the season and 0-2 in region play.
At W.S. Neal
Slocomb 6 8 6 0 – 20
W.S. Neal 0 7 20 0 – 27
SLOCOMB- Williams 5 yard run (two point conversion failed)
SLOCOMB- Williams 2 yard pass from Register (two point conversions successful)
W.S. NEAL- Alexander 28 yard pass from Barksdale (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- M. Daniel 78 yard pass from Barksdale (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- M. Daniel 4 yard run (Howard pass from Barksdale)
SLOCOMB- Crawford 31 yard pass from Myles (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 19 yard run (kick failed)
First Downs: W.S. Neal 12, Slocomb 14
Third Down Conversions: W.S. Neal 2-4, Slocomb 4-12
Fourth Down Conversions: W.S. Neal 0-0, Slocomb 1-3
Total Yards: W.S. Neal 358 (195 rushing, 163 passing); Slocomb 314 (131 rushing, 183 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- M. Daniel 16-127 1TD, Bailey 11-93 1TD, Roh. Travis 1-5, Ron. Travis 1-(-4), Barksdale 8-(-26); Slocomb- Williams 19-80 1TD, Singletary 5-22, Myles 9-18, Register 7-11
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 6-9-163 2TD; Slocomb- Register 7-12-126 1TD 2INT, Myles 4-10-57 1TD
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- M. Daniel 2-82 1TD, Alexander 2-53 1TD, Floyd 1-15, Bailey 1-13; Slocomb- Singletary 5-60, Hilliard 1-40, Myles 1-36, Crawford 1-31 1TD, Williams 3-16 1TD
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- Danley 2-83, 41.5 avg.; Slocomb- Register 3-77, 25.7 avg.
Penalties W.S. Neal 7-42, Slocomb 6-40