Eagles playoff magic number still at one
DANIEL HODGE – Sports Writer
The magic number for the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles and the playoffs is still one.
W.S. Neal's bid to make the postseason field was put on hold Friday when it dropped a pivotal Class 3A Region 1 decision at Straughn, as it fell to the streaking Tigers 21-14.
In all likelihood, the Blue Eagles will have to beat arch rival T.R. Miller this Friday at W.S. Neal Stadium to make the playoffs. In fact, T.R. Miller's 10-7 loss to Pike County Friday also puts the Tigers in a likely must-win situation in order to qualify for the playoffs.
The one scenario that would take away the must-win situation from the T.R. Miller-W.S. Neal game is if Slocomb loses to winless Dale County, which could also open the door for Headland to sneak into the playoffs.
Straughn's victory was its sixth straight after an 0-2 start and locked up a playoff spot for the Tigers (6-2 overall and 5-1 in region play). Straughn plays at Pike County this Friday in a game that will decide the region championship.
The Blue Eagles (4-4 overall and 3-3 in Region 1) outgained Straughn in yardage, 254-128, but the offense also lost three fumbles. Two of those turnovers resulted in scores for the Tigers. W.S. Neal also inflicted pain upon itself with penalties, as they set the Blue Eagles back several times on drives that would prove to be very important keys to the game.
On the game's opening drive, the Blue Eagles gained possession at their own 30-yard line in search of an early score. W.S. Neal's offense marched down the field after a 24-yard pass from Marquis Barksdale to Jonathan Alexander extended the drive on a long third down play. Just four plays later, the Blue Eagles were forced to punt.
The Tigers began their first drive of the contest after the punt was downed at the Straughn 15-yard line. Two rushes for one yard and an incomplete pass set up a punting situation for the Tigers. As Straughn punter Chris Sasser stood on his own one-yard line, it would be key to get the punt off in time because the Blue Eagles would rush their entire defensive line. The decision by the W.S. Neal coaches paid off, as a couple of Blue Eagles blocked the punt and recovered it at the Straughn four-yard line.
It took W.S. Neal just one play to draw first blood after the blocked punt when Jake Bailey took the handoff and bounced off two would be tacklers and into the endzone. Spencer Williamson's extra point split the uprights and moved W.S. Neal's lead to 7-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
After a short Blue Eagle kickoff was returned for 20 yards, the Tigers resumed play on W.S. Neal's 45-yard line. Although the Blue Eagle defense allowed one third down conversion with a 19-yard pass, it held strong and forced Straughn to turn the ball over on downs.
Rohin Travis carried for four yards and set up a second down situation. On second down, Barksdale fumbled the football and a Straughn defensive lineman recovered it at the Blue Eagles' 18-yard line.
The Tigers proved that they too could capitalize on the opposition's mistakes, as they only needed only one play to take advantage. D'Andrea Lee took the handoff and ran around the left end for an 18-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the first quarter. An extra point attempt by Robbie Kearns barely squeezed inside the uprights and tied the score at 7-7.
W.S. Neal missed a big opportunity to break that deadlock just before halftime. Mario Daniel appeared he might be headed into the endzone when he could not secure the ball and fumbled it at the two-yard line where Lee scooped up the ball for Straughn.
Both defenses proved to be the strong point in the third quarter, as only 33 yards were allowed for the entire frame. These defensive stops resulted in multiple punts by both sides.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Tigers quarterback Ryne Taylor took the snap, rolled right and hit Malcolm Jones in the right corner of the endzone for a touchdown and have Straughn its first lead of the game. Kearns' extra point attempt was blocked by Alexander and kept the score 13-7 with 11:50 left.
The Blue Eagles' offense, which took over at its own 20 after a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, used three rushes and a pass completion for a combined 31 yards that moved the ball just inside Tiger territory at the 49-yard line.
After an incompletion and illegal blocking penalty, the Blue Eagles were confronted with a second down and 27 yards to go for a first down. Barksdale threw a strike down the middle of the field that was hauled in by Floyd at the Straughn 46-yard line. On the next play Barksdale tossed the screen pass to Bailey who made some nifty moves on his way to a 46-yard touchdown reception to tie the game. Williamson's PAT attempt was good and gave the Blue Eagles a 14-13 lead with 8:37 left in the contest.
After the Blue Eagle kickoff, Straughn regained the football on its own 34-yard line. On second down, Taylor dropped back into the pocket and threw a pass that was intercepted by a diving Mario Daniel at the Tigers' 42-yard line.
The Blue Eagles looked as if they would take advantage of their good field position and add to their lead. That chance fizzled when two offensive penalties moved the Blue Eagles back inside their own territory and Barksdale threw an incomplete pass on a third and long situation. On fourth down, the long snap of the punt was indeed long, as it soared over Josh Danley's head and rolled to the W.S. Neal 15-yard line where Jones picked up the ball and ran it into the endzone for a touchdown to move back in front. The Tigers tried for the two-point conversion and succeeded when Alphonso Freeney received the toss and then tossed the ball to a wide open receiver. The two-point conversion extended Straughn's lead to 21-14 with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Eagles offense had two more chances to score, but came up empty when it turned the ball over on downs both times.
W.S. Neal 7 0 0 7 – 14
Straughn 7 0 0 14 – 21
W.S. NEAL- Bailey four yard run (Williamson kick)
STRAUGHN- Lee 18 yard run (Kearns kick)
STRAUGHN- Jones 17 yard pass from Taylor (Kearns kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 47 yard pass from Barksdale (Williamson kick)
STRAUGHN- Jones 15 yard fumble recovery return (A. Freeney pass completion)
First downs: W.S. Neal 12, Straughn 10
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal- 3-7, Straughn 4-7
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 0-2, Straughn 0-1
Total Yards: W.S. Neal 254 (67 rushing, 187 passing), Straughn 128 (63 rushing, 65 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 11-34, M. Daniel 4-12, Bailey 7-10 1TD, Roh. Travis 3-11; Straughn- J. Freeney 9-35, A. Freeney 9-30, Lee 8-18 1TD, Cottle 2-2, Pettus 1-(-1), Taylor 3-(-21)
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 13-25-187 1TD; Straughn- Taylor 4-9-65 1TD 1INT
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Alexander 4-66, Floyd 3-55, Bailey 1-48 1TD, Howard 1-13, M. Daniel 2-4, Weaver 2-3; Straughn- Jones 3-34 1TD, Johnson 2-31
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- Josh Danley 3-89, 29.7 avg.; Straughn- Sasser 4-123, 30.8 avg.
Penalties: W.S. Neal 10-90, Straughn 5-33