Eagles come so close, yet so far away
By By DANIEL HODGE – Sports Writer
Coming up short is a common omission that many people often have and sometimes can not prevent.
That was something the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles experienced Friday, as they literally came up a yard short in a 21-20 Class 3A Region 1 setback to the host Headland Rams.
Fresh off a win over Slocomb, the Blue Eagles (1-3 overall and 1-2 in region) sought to spoil Headland's homecoming.
On the game's opening drive, the W.S. Neal defense held strong and forced the Rams to punt after three plays from deep inside their own territory.
After the punt, the Blue Eagles' offense took over with the ball on the Headland 48-yard line. On its first play, Mario Daniel weaved his way through Ram defenders for a 17-yard gain to the 31-yard line. On third down and short, quarterback Marquis Barksdale handed the ball off to Daniel, who ran 24 yards for the game's first score. Spencer Williamson's successful point after attempt made the score 7-0 with 8:41 left in the first quarter.
From what both the W.S. Neal offense and defense showed early in the game, many people thought that it would be a long night for the Rams on their homecoming.
After it returned the kickoff to the 20-yard line, the Headland offense showed that it would not lie down and give up to an emotional and motivated Blue Eagles defense. After a couple of first down rushes, the Rams were faced with a tough third down situation. Quarterback Justin Thomas connected with Anthony Smith for 19 yards on what would not only result in a first down, but would be one of only two completions for the Rams in the game.
With the ball positioned on the W.S. Neal 26-yard line, Smith completed the drive when he scampered towards the endzone for a touchdown. James Harris' extra point attempt was good and tied the score at 7-7 with 5:12 left in the first quarter.
After a Blue Eagle punt, Headland regained the football on its own 28-yard line. The Rams consumed nearly eight minutes of clock and used 13 plays to go 72 yards for their second score.
A key fourth down conversion run by Thomas inside the Blue Eagle 15-yard line highlighted the drive. After a W.S. Neal defensive lineman was flagged for lining up offsides, the Rams were rewarded with a first down and goal from the four-yard line. On the next play, Chavis Reeves ran around the right end and into the endzone for a touchdown that put Headland op top. Harris' extra point barely squeezed its way through the uprights and extended the Rams' lead to 14-7 with 8:37 left until halftime.
On the following kickoff, Jonathan Alexander returned the ball 54 yards to the Headland 21-yard line. After the Rams were whistled for a defensive pass interference call, the Blue Eagles were given a first down on the eight-yard line. All hopes of tying the score were thrown out when Daniel fumbled the football after he was hit hard inside the five-yard line.
Headland countered and slowly pushed the ball out to its own 32-yard line where it also fumbled on what appeared to be a blown play. James Freeman pounced on the football for the Blue Eagles on the Rams 33-yard line.
W.S. Neal was unable to make anything happen before halftime due in part to a couple of penalties and a sack of Barksdale by a Headland defensive lineman.
The second half began in the same manner as the first half did for the Blue Eagles, as they scored and forced the Rams to punt.
After a 41-yard kickoff return by Mario Daniel, W.S. Neal started the second half on the Headland 39-yard line.
After a crucial pass from Barksdale to Alexander for nine yards, the Blue Eagles were faced with yet another third down situation. Barksdale ran the shotgun snap 14 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Josh Danley's successful PAT tied the score at 14-14 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
After a defensive stop, W.S. Neal forced the Rams to punt from midfield where the ball was downed on the Blue Eagle 13-yard line.
With the ball deep inside its own territory, W.S. Neal's offense gained two first downs on as many plays via the legs of Jake Bailey. On third down and seven from the Headland 24-yard line, the Blue Eagles searched for another third down conversion. W.S. Neal had converted three of five third down chances up until that point, but this one failed when the shotgun snap sailed over Barksdale's head for a 21-yard loss to the 45-yard line.
After a brilliantly placed punt by Danley, the Rams regained possession on their own five-yard line.
W.S. Neal's defense not only came up with a quick stop, but the defensive stand turned into great field position when Rams punter Chase Peterson managed just a 14-yard punt when the ball glanced off the side of his foot.
With great field position, W.S. Neal looked to take advantage of this miscue by the Headland punter. A Bailey rush for a loss of two yards and a completion from Barksdale to Alexander for five yards set up a third down. The third down pass completion to Alexander in traffic netted no yards and led to a 39-yard field goal attempt by Williamson. The kick sailed wide left and gave the ball back to the Rams with four minutes left in the game.
With the ball on its own 20-yard line, Headland needed only two plays to go ahead. After Michael Rhodes had a two-yard rush, Smith ran his through the Blue Eagle defense for a 78-yard touchdown. Harris' extra point was good and gave Headland a 21-14 lead with 3:40 left.
W.S. Neal's last opportunity began at its own 38-yard line. A series of Barksdale completions resulted in a couple of first downs. On first down from the Ram 35-yard line, Barksdale was sacked in the backfield. With the clock violently ticking away, the Blue Eagles signaled for a timeout to set up an essential play.
The strategy W.S. Neal coach Blaine Hathcock employed during the timeout worked, as Barksdale tossed a strike to Justin Howard for a 48-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left in the contest. The touchdown trimmed Headland's lead to a mere point at 21-20.
Then came the biggest decision of the game. Kick the ball and go for the tie or go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt.
The Blue Eagles lined up in the extra point formation and snapped the ball to Bailey, who carried the ball over the goal line. Just as one referee signaled that he was in the endzone, another ran in and indicated Bailey was down inside the one-yard line. The failed two-point conversion left the score 21-20.
The only remaining hope for the Blue Eagles was to recover an onside kick. Williamson's kick bounced twice and into the arms of Reeves, who fell to the ground to preserve the win for the Rams.
The Blue Eagles have another tough challenge ahead of them Friday when they travel to Montgomery Trinity Presbyterian for a 7 p.m. non-region game. Trinity, which is ranked ninth in the state in Class 4A ran its record to 4-0 Friday with a 25-6 win over Daleville.
W. S. Neal 7 0 7 6 – 20
Headland 7 7 0 7 – 21
W.S. NEAL- M. Daniel 24 yard run (Williamson kick)
HEADLAND- Smith 26 yard run (Harris kick)
HEADLAND- Reeves four yard run (Harris kick)
W.S. NEAL- Barksdale 14 yard run (Danley kick)
HEADLAND- Smith 78 yard run (Harris kick)
W.S. NEAL- Howard 48 yard pass from Barksdale (run failed)
First downs: W.S. Neal 9, Headland 11
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal 3-7, Headland 0-4
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 0-1, Headland 2-2
Total yards: W.S. Neal 228 (115 rushing, 113 passing), Headland 267 (249 rushing, 18 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal: Bailey 9-54, M. Daniel 5-54 1TD, Roh. Travis 2-8, Sheffield 1-3, Barksdale 7-(-4) 1TD; Headland: Smith 13-131 2TD, Reeves 12-80 1TD, Rhodes 4-19, Thomas 7-8, Salter 2-6, Roy 1-5
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 9-14-113 1TD; Headland- Thomas 1-3-19, Reeves 1-1-(-1)
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Alexander 5-24, Floyd 2-21, Howard 1-48 1TD, Roh. Travis 1-20; Headland- Smith 1-19, Johnson 1-(-1)
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- Danley 2-76, 38.0 avg.; Headland- Peterson 3-74, 24.7 avg.
Penalties: W.S. Neal 9-65, Headland 7-50