By Deunte Marshall/Sports Correspondent
Etowah clinched a spot in the state playoffs on Friday (Oct. 25) with a 31-3 Class 5A, Region 7 victory over Boaz in Attalla.
The Blue Devils (7-2, 5-2) clinched third place in the region standings thanks to their victory and Scottsboro’s triumph over Fort Payne.
“It was a tough week for us, especially after the Southside game, and not to add to the fact that we went against my alma mater,” said Etowah head coach Drew Noles, who coached football at Boaz for 16 years until this season. “We couldn’t get the ball from them, and the time of possession was in their favor. We just couldn’t get off the field on third down, but we made plays and got the win.”
The EHS football staff includes former Boaz players Jason Noles, Jeff Johnson and Brock Rutledge. Noles and Johnson, along with Etowah staff member Mario Duster, are former Pirate assistant coaches.
“I mean, that was brutal to come off a game like [Southside], where the energy was like it was. It was kind of dead tonight. There wasn’t much electricity and excitement, and it was cold weather. And then the fact you’re playing against your alma mater, and a team that just last year I was in the other dressing room. But we love the guys we’ve got. I thought they handled it very well.
Etowah (7-2, 5-2) travels to Pleasant Grove for the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 8.
The Etowah defense stymied the Pirates (2-7, 2-5) early and often.
Darius Moore intercepted a Boaz pass and returned it to the Etowah 40, where three plays later Paul Ruiz ran 13 yards to pay dirt to give the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with 6:41 remaining in the first quarter. Jose Mandragon hit the extra point.
On the next Boaz possession, the Blue Devil defense struck again, as Gorgeous Hardwick scooped up a fumble and returned it 29 yards to the end zone to increase the lead 14-0 with 5:29 remaining.
The Boaz defense then recovered a fumble from a backwards pass, but Devin Horton intercepted a pass on the Blue Devil 2 to end the half.
The second half started off with a bang for the hosts. Boaz started the second half with an onside kick, but Etowah’s Oryain Powell recovered at midfield.
Stacy Williams took the first play from scrimmage 50 yards for a score, and Mandragon’s with 11:48 left extended the lead 21-0.
The Pirates answered with their only scoring drive, a 12-play series capped by Aragon’s 33-yard field goal with six minutes on the clock in the third quarter.
Bryar Mintz recovered a fumble on Etowah’s next series, but the Pirates’ offense went three-and-out.
Mandragon’s 34-yard field goal gave the Blue Devils a 24-3 cushion at the 15-second mark of the third quarter.
Hardwick picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards to the Boaz 18.
Four plays later, Kordell Rudolph tossed a 15-yard scoring pass to Jordan Powell on a fourth-and-seven play with 8:41 remaining in the game.
Etowah ran for 187 yards. Ruiz gained 84 yards on nine attempts, and Horton had 77 yards on 11 carries.
Andy Noles was 3-of-5 passing for 34 yards. Rudolph finished 3-of-6 for 31 yards.
“No doubt Monday and Tuesday were as bad a practices as I’ve ever seen,” said Drew Noles. “It was awful. We were still hung over from last week. But I was proud of them for coming out with a win, because I knew [Boaz] Coach [‘Eric] Whaley and his staff would have a good plan.”
Etowah ends the regular season on Friday at home against Glencoe.
Shannon J. Allen contributed to this story.