By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Etowah High coach Drew Noles knew entering his team’s Class 5A, Region 7 showdown with No. 3 Alexandria last Friday (Sept. 22) that his defense’s performance would decide the outcome.
The Blue Devil defense dominated all four quarters of the pivotal region showdown as Etowah (4-1, 3-0) blanked the No. 3 Valley Cubs, 14-0, at Jim Glover Field in Attalla. Alexandria entered the contest averaging 42 points per game but they could not reach the end zone against Etowah’s stout defense.
“We don’t play a very pretty style of football, that’s for sure,” Noles said. “It’s a great win for us. The defense played like we wanted them to and needed them to. The defensive front continues to get better, the secondary played well tonight and played with great eye discipline, and we’re proud of that.”
The two teams exchanged punts on their opening drives, but the Etowah offense found a rhythm on its second series after a scoreless first quarter.
The Blue Devils started on their own 20-yard line and methodically moved the ball down the field with a balanced rushing attack. Running backs Cory Thomas and Caleb Horton led the way, and Horton capped off a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to give Etowah a 7-0 lead with 10:51 remaining in the second quarter.
After back-to-back punts, the Valley Cubs started their third drive of the game on the Etowah 26-yard line following a personal foul penalty on the Blue Devils. Alexandria (4-1, 2-1) managed to move the ball inside the Etowah 10-yard line, but the Blue Devil defense forced a turnover on downs. Etowah took a 7-0 lead into the locker room after holding the Valley Cubs to only 42 yards of total offense in the first half.
The defensive battle continued into the second half, as neither team managed to find the end zone in the third quarter. Alexandria’s second drive of the half started on its own 18, and the Etowah defense nearly forced a three-and-out before a defensive pass interference call bailed out the Valley Cubs. Running back Keenun Woodruff broke loose for a 51-yard run on the following play, which set up the Valley Cubs in scoring range.
Later in the drive, Alexandria was facing a third-and-goal from the Etowah 28-yard line after a series of penalties. Valley Cub quarterback Jacob Wells found receiver Roderick Dye for a 25-yard gain, which set up a critical fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Alexandria coach Frank Tucker opted to run the ball, and Woodruff was stuffed on the 1-yard line for a goal line stand for Etowah.
The Blue Devils were forced to punt on their next possession, and Alexandria started its next drive in Blue Devil territory again at the 36-yard line. However, the Etowah defensive line dominated and the Valley Cubs turned the ball over on downs yet again.
Etowah quickly marched down the field on the ensuing drive, and Horton scored his second touchdown of the night on a 3-yard run to cap off a seven-play, 78-yard drive that was aided by two personal foul penalties on the Valley Cubs. Blue Devil defensive back Emil Smith intercepted a pass on the next drive that sealed the victory for Etowah.
“I thought our offense did what was necessary to win,” Noles said. “We’ve got to give ourselves a chance to win every game in the fourth quarter, and if the kids continue to believe, then we’ll have a chance to do that. We know we’ve got a long way to go to get where we want to get to, but we’re proud of this win.
“This was a great win for our community. I thought we were great flag-bearers for our community tonight.”
Noles thought the depth on the defensive line played a major role in his team’s success. He also said his team has “bought in” to what the coaches have been telling them all season, and now he wants to ensure they continue to improve throughout the second half of the season.
“The thing we’ve got to do is handle success and not listen to how good everybody tells us we are, because we’ve got a long way to go.”
Woodruff led all rushers with 84 yards on 18 carries.
Wright was the leading rusher for the Blue Devils as he carried the ball 10 times for 61 yards. He also threw for 14 yards. Horton carried the ball 10 times for 43 yards and two scores, and Thomas had 12 carries for 60 yards. Defensively for Etowah, Carter Dingler had 19 tackles, followed by Jesse Altman and Jarren Wright with nine each and Evan Jones and Trey Cole with six each and Alex Howard and David Rutledge with five each. Altman also had two sacks.
The Blue Devils step out of region play this Friday (Sept. 29) as they host Fort Payne.