Eagles make quick work of Dale County
By By DANIEL HODGE – Sports Writer
As great as their 7-6 win over previously undefeated Trinity Presbyterian last week was, the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles knew it meant virtually nothing when it came to playoff qualification.
As they entered Friday's Class 3A Region 1 game road game against the Dale County Warriors, the Blue Eagles knew they needed to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. That is just what they did, as they cruised to a 37-6 victory.
The Blue Eagles' defense was indeed stingy, as it gave up only 67 total yards. Fifty of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the second and third string players had long since entered the game.
W.S. Neal's defense proved on the first possession it would be tough for Dale County to pound out any yardage and forced the Warriors to punt after three plays from their own 41-yard line. A short punt gave the Blue Eagles' offense decent field position for their first drive from just inside their own 40-yard line.
After a first down pass completion from Marquis Barksdale to Dewayne Floyd for 14 yards, Mario Daniel took the handoff and scampered 50 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Spencer Williamson's extra point was good and gave the Blue Eagles an early 7-0 lead with 8:57 left in the first quarter.
On their second possession, the Warriors were again unable to collect any positive yardage against the Blue Eagles' defense and Dale County's special teams unit could only manage another short punt.
With the ball on its own 43-yard line, W.S. Neal needed only seven plays to go 57 yards for its second score in as many possessions. The drive was capped off by a 20-yard run by Barksdale. Williamson's PAT kick was no good and left the score 13-0 with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
On its next two possessions, the Blue Eagles' offense could not get anything going and was forced to punt. The latter of those punts was the last one W.S. Neal had to make in the game.
Dale County (0-6 overall and 0-4 in region play) turned the ball over after the second of those punts when running back Chaz Thomas fumbled the handoff in the backfield. Michael Boyd pounced on the football and gave the Blue Eagles an outstanding opportunity to add a few more points to its lead.
With the football now on the Dale County 17-yard line, W.S. Neal's offense was pushed farther away from the end zone after a false start penalty. The penalty seemed to be a slap on the wrist, as the offense could only get five yards on its next three plays. On fourth down and 10 yards to go for a first down, the Blue Eagles opted to attempt a 35-yard field goal. Williamson's kick was both long enough and split the uprights and extended W.S. Neal's lead to 16-0 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Dale County continued its quest for a touchdown after the ensuing kickoff was returned to the 33-yard line. On their first play, Warriors quarterback Michael Johnson dropped back and tossed a pass right into the arms of W.S. Neal defensive back Jonathan Alexander, who returned the interception back to the Dale County 17-yard line.
It took the Blue Eagles' offense only two minutes to capitalize on the excellent field position. Three quick rushes resulted in a fourth down and one from the eight-yard line. On fourth down, Barksdale took the quarterback sneak for four yards and a first down at the four-yard line. On the very next play, Jake Bailey covered those four yards for a touchdown. Williamson's kick was successful and moved the score to 23-0 with 2:12 left in the first half.
The Blue Eagles got the ball right back after a defensive stop and Justin Howard block of Kyle Henderson's punt attempt. This time W.S. Neal came away empty when a 32-yard field goal attempt by Williamson sailed wide left on the last play of the first half.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Blue Eagles marched 69 yards over eight plays for a touchdown. The key to the drive was a big third down completion from Barksdale to Howard for 27 yards. Three consecutive rushes set up a second down play where Barksdale hit Alexander on a pass and catch for a 23-yard score. Josh Danley's extra point attempt was good and extended W.S. Neal's cushion to 30-0 with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
After another defensive stop by the Blue Eagles and a Dale County punt, the W.S. Neal's offense regained possession on its own 41-yard line. Its final scoring drive consumed nearly seven minutes of the clock over 10 plays. On a short fourth down attempt, Bailey carried the handoff 19 yards for a touchdown. Danley's extra point attempt was good and booted the W.S. Neal advantage to 37-0 moved with 32 seconds left in the third frame.
The Blue Eagles' reserves also showed some ability to move the ball, especially on their last possession, which began at the W.S. Neal 25-yard line. The Blue Eagles freshmen unit began to drive the ball down the field. On third down and long, quarterback Taylor Cash took the snap and ran 10 yards for a first down. Other freshmen began to jump in on the action, as both Wayne Mitchell and Nate Sheffield carried the ball three times each for a total 17 yards. That drive ended when a mishandled snap resulted in a fumble recovery by Dale County's Johnson at its own 47-yard line.
The Warriors were finally able to dent the scoreboard against the less experienced W.S. Neal reserves. With exactly one minute left in the game, Johnson carried the ball over into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run that spoiled the shutout. Several Blue Eagles blocked the extra point attempt that left the final margin at 37-6.
The Blue Eagles will play at home for the first time in four weeks this Friday when they host region foe Abbeville at 7 p.m. on Homecoming Night at W.S. Neal. Abbeville (1-3 in Region 1 and 2-4 overall) was pounded by third-ranked and undefeated Pike County Friday 91-0.
At Dale County
W.S. Neal 13 10 14 0- 37
Dale County 0 0 0 6 – 6
W.S. NEAL- M. Daniel 50 yard run (Spencer Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Barksdale 20 yard run (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Williamson 35 yard field goal
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 4 yard run (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Alexander 23 yard pass from Barksdale (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 19 yard run (Danley kick)
DALE COUNTY- Johnson 1 yard run (kick failed)
First downs: W.S. Neal 17, Dale County 7
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal 5-11, Dale County 1-8
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 3-3, Dale County 0-0
Total yards: W.S. Neal 357 (273 rushing, 84 passing), Dale County 67 (38 rushing, 29 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- M. Daniel 12-113 1TD, Bailey 16-98 2TD, Barksdale 8-41 1TD, Sheffield 3-11, Cash 3-10, Mitchell 3-6; Dale County- Johnson 11-23 1TD, Thomas 6-10, Calhoun 10-5
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 5-11-84 1TD; Dale County- Johnson 4-11-29 1INT
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Alexander 2-42 1TD, Howard 1-27, Floyd 1-14, Roh. Travis 1-1; Dale County- Floyd 2-15, Peters 1-14, Daniels 1-0
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- Danley 2-68, 34.0 avg.; Dale County- Henderson 4-110, 27.5 avg.
Penalties: W.S. Neal 6-45, Dale County 1-5