Season is one of big steps forward for WSN program

Published 8:43 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2006

They beat their win total from the two previous years combined. They qualified for the postseason for the first time in three years and won their first playoff game in three years. They beat archrival T.R. Miller for the first time in 10 years.
Even though the campaign ended sooner than they would have liked Friday when they fell 24-14 to Trinity in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs, the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles took some big steps forward this season.
Losses in two of their first three region games had the Blue Eagles scrambling just to make the playoffs. Not only did W.S. Neal regroup with a seven-game winning streak and made it to postseason, but the Blue Eagles scored at least 40 points in the first six of those wins.
The Blue Eagles coach said the first turning point for his team was its 40-7 win at Monroe County in week six.
The next turning point came two weeks later when the Blue Eagles wrapped up a playoff spot with a 54-39 win at Jackson.
Of course, the biggest highlight for W.S. Neal was its dramatic 42-35 win over then 4A No. 1 T.R. Miller where the Blue Eagles rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit and pulled out the victory on Marquis Barksdale's touchdown pass to Justin Smith with eight seconds left.
Hathcock credited much of his team's success to its 14-member senior class. W.S. Neal's top three rushers were seniors. Nykeem Barton led that list with 1,223 yards and 18 touchdowns, while Justin Smith had 802 yards and 12 scores. Quarterback Marquis Barksdale, who threw for 1,517 yards and 20 touchdowns, ran for 437 yards.
Seniors accounted for 87 of W.S. Neal's 94 pass receptions. Jonathan Alexander led that list with a team high 33 catches for 668 yards and eight touchdowns. Justin Howard, who missed the second-round playoff game against Trinity due to injury, became a big cog in the offensive attack with 20 catches for 414 yards and six touchdowns.
The Blue Eagles offensive line was also anchored by a senior, left tackle and Auburn verbal recruit Jared Cooper.
While Hathcock knows and appreciates the value of those seniors, he also knows the reality is they have suited up in a W.S. Neal uniform for the last time.
W.S. Neal will have the same schedule in 2007 as it did in 2006 with the exception of home and away dates being flip-flopped. The one exception is the regular season finale against Calhoun, which will make a return trip to East Brewton next season. W.S. Neal bought out next year's road trip to Calhoun when the schools signed their original two-year contract prior to this season. That will give the Blue Eagles six home games next year, which includes three straight to end the season.
W.S. Neal's tentative 2007 schedule is as follows.
Aug. 31 Daleville Away
Sept. 7 Escambia County Away*
Sept. 14 Southside-Selma Home*
Sept. 21 Thomasville Away*
Sept. 28 Opp Home
Oct. 5 Monroe County Home*
Oct. 12 Hillcrest Away*
Oct. 19 Jackson Home*
Oct. 26 T.R. Miller Home*
Nov. 2 Calhoun Home
* region

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