Eagles gets first playoff win since 2003 against Jemison

Published 7:18 pm Monday, November 13, 2006

By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
One play does not make a game, but one sequence certainly changed the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles first half struggles into a 35-21 road win over the Jemison Panthers in Thursday's opening round of the Class 4A playoffs.
W.S. Neal's seventh straight victory gave the Blue Eagles (9-2) their first postseason triumph since they defeated Montgomery Academy 14-7 in overtime back in the second round of the 2003 playoffs.
Jemison (6-5) already had a 14-7 lead in the final two minutes of the first half when Panthers quarterback Jeffrey Alexander threw what was momentarily a 25-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Olanrewaju. Instead what was at least a 20-7 advantage was quickly wiped out when the Panthers were flagged for holding on the play.
That was just the beginning of the pivotal sequence. With less than a minute left in the first half on the same drive, Jemison was backed up and faced a fourth-and-21 from the W.S. Neal 36. Instead of opting for a punt that could have backed the Blue Eagles deep into territory own territory, Jemison chose to go for it and Alexander's short toss to Shawn Atchison was stopped after just a one-yard gain. The defensive stop gave the Blue Eagles some field position to work with 47 second still left.
It proved to be a costly missed gamble by Panthers, as one play after the change of possession W.S. Neal quarterback Marquis Barksdale hit Jonathan Alexander on a deep pass along the right sideline. Alexander quickly reversed directions and charged to the opposite side of the field and ran down the left sideline for a 65-yard touchdown pass. Akeem Green's point after attempt tied the game at 14-14.
The Blue Eagles could have even faced a larger deficit. Jemison drove all the way to the W.S. Neal seven-yard line only to be turned away on downs on the game's opening series.
The Blue Eagles' offense responded from the defensive stop with a 93-yard drive that was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by Nykeem Barton, who ran for 170 yards on 12 attempts in the game.
Alexander brought the Panthers right back with a key 33-yard completion to Olenrewaju that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Nick Eggers. Matthew Sample's PAT kick matched Green's earlier kick and tied the game at 7-7.
Alexander put Jemison on the following series ahead when he hit Eggers on a 54-yard touchdown strike down the right sideline. Sample's conversion kick gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 4:45 left in the half.
Alexander scorched the Blue Eagles secondary in the first half for 251 yards passing, as he completed 18 of 25 pass attempts. Alexander completed nine straight passes during one stretch and 12 of his last 13 first half attempts.
After W.S. Neal took a 21-14 lead on the opening series of the second half on Barksdale's one-yard quarterback keeper and Green's PAT, Alexander brought the Panthers right back with completions of 27, 38 and five yards before he hit Olanrewaju on a 13-yard touchdown pass. That touchdown toss followed by Sample's PAT kick tied the game again at 21-21.
While Alexander's 79 yards passing on that series gave him 335 yards with more than 17 minutes left in the game, it was the last of his heroics. Alexander completed just one more pass the rest of the way and it went for a six-yard loss. Alexander was also sacked twice and was picked off once in the second half.
While the Blue Eagles finally found a way to slow down Alexander, Jemison never found a way to stop the Blue Eagles, who racked up 444 yards of total offense even though they had a string of six straight 40-point games snapped.
W.S. Neal took the lead for good with 1:51 left in the third quarter when Justin Smith scored on a seven-yard run to cap off a 72-yard, eight-play drive. Green's fourth of five PATs extended the Blue Eagles lead to 28-21.
The first big defensive play by the Blue Eagles came on the ensuing series when Jemison running back Eggers was hit from behind after an 11-yard gain and lost the ball. W.S. Neal's Justin Howard was in the right position to make the recovery and ended Jemison's threat at the Blue Eagles' 41-yard line.
The turnover not only slowed down the Panthers offense, but it enabled W.S. Neal to have the lead and the ball for the first time in the game. The Blue Eagles were able to extend that cushion thanks to two critical third down conversions.
Barksdale converted a third-and-11 with a 19-yard pass to Howard on the opening play of the fourth quarter to keep the drive alive. Later in the possession W.S. Neal had a third-and-12 when Barksdale picked up 13 yards on a keeper. Those two key conversions eventually set up a one-yard touchdown run
by Barksdale. The touchdown and conversion by Green gave the Blue Eagles a two-possession lead of 35-21 with 9:09 left.
W.S. Neal's defense made sure there would be no comeback. It forced the Panthers on a three-and-out on the following possession and Smith picked off Alexander with just under four minutes left that snuffed out Jemison's last offensive play.
The Blue Eagles will host Trinity Presbyterian (9-2) in the second round this coming Friday at 7 p.m. Trinity advanced with an 18-0 win over Dadeville Friday. The W.S. Neal-Trinity winner will play the Thomasville (10-1)-Cleburne County (8-2) winner the following week in the quarterfinals.