By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Class 5A, No. 5 Etowah advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999 with a resounding 42-21 win over Brooks on Friday (Nov. 17) at Jim Glover Field in Attalla.
The Blue Devils (11-1) will travel to take on No. 1 Briarwood Christian next Friday (Nov. 24).
For most of the year, Etowah relied on its stout defense to set the tone for the game. But it was the Blue Devil offense that took over in the win against the Lions, with quarterback Derickey Wright turning in one of his best performances of the season.
Brooks (8-3) threatened to score on the opening drive of the game after a long run by running back Noah Turbyfill set up the Lions deep inside Blue Devil territory. However, Etowah defensive back Ny Ny Davis intercepted Brooks quarterback Christopher Spurgeon and returned the ball to the Etowah 23-yard line.
The Blue Devils went three-and-out on their first drive, but the defense returned the favor and forced the Lions to punt. Davis made his second massive play of the opening quarter as he blocked the punt and teammate Arlin Davis recovered the ball on the Brooks 13.
Two plays later, running back Corey Thomas scored from 10 yards out to give the Blue Devils an early 7-0 lead with five minutes left in the first quarter.
The Lions attacked the Blue Devils through the air on their next drive, and Spurgeon connected on two big pass plays to receiver William Tucker – including an 18-yard touchdown strike – to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:14 remaining in the opening frame.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Brooks offense went back to the ground game as Turbyfill led his team down the field on another scoring drive. He punched the ball in on a 7-yard scamper, and a successful fake field goal gave the Lions a 15-7 lead with 9:45 left in the second quarter.
The Etowah offense finally found a rhythm on its next drive, and wide receiver Deaundrea Williams made plays in the running and the passing game. First, Williams took an end around 22 yards for a first down. On the next play, Wright found him on a fade route for 32 yards to set up the Blue Devils in the red zone.
Williams took another end around for a small gain, and two plays later Wright found him on another fade for a 13-yard touchdown. The extra point closed the gap to 15-14 with 7:09 remaining until halftime.
The Lions threatened to score again before the half but linebacker Jarren Wright intercepted Spurgeon and set up Etowah on the Lion 39-yard line. Wright connected with receiver Austin Young for a 15-yard gain, and he later found receiver Emil Smith for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Blue Devils a 21-15 lead heading into the locker room.
Etowah wasted no time on the opening possession of the second half. Wright connected with Williams on a 22-yard gain to move the ball into Brooks territory, and the sophomore quarterback finished the drive with his legs.
Wright rolled to his right to look for a receiver, but the Lions were able to get pressure on him and forced him to run in the opposite direction. The quarterback caught a block as he was rounding the left corner and outran the Brooks secondary for a 39-yard touchdown run to give the Blue Devils a 28-15 advantage less than two minutes into the third quarter.
The Blue Devils’ double-digit lead didn’t last for long, as Spurgeon broke loose for a 77-yard gain on the third play of the ensuing possession for the Lions. Spurgeon scored from a yard out three plays later to close the gap to 28-21 with 7:37 left in the third quarter.
Etowah took the touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils dominated the last 12 minutes of the game.
After forcing a Brooks punt, Wright and the Etowah offense quickly went back to work. Wright found Young for a 21-yard pass, followed by a 21-yard run from Wright. Three plays later, Wright found Smith again for a 23-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 35-21 with 9:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Etowah defensive line started wreaking havoc on the Brooks offensive line in the fourth quarter, and the pressure forced Spurgeon into his third interception of the night. Deaundrea Williams picked off the pass and returned it for a touchdown, but a penalty negated the score.
Brooks forced an Etowah three-and-out, but as soon as the Lions got the ball back, the Blue Devils forced another interception. Davis picked off his second pass of the night, and the freshman submitted his best performance of the season at the best possible time for the Etowah defense.
On the second play of Etowah’s following drive, Corey Thomas found a seam and sprinted down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown to ice the game and give the Blue Devils a 42-21 lead with 5:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils added another interception to end the game as defensive back Justin Harris picked off a pass on the game’s final play, which gave the defense five interceptions on the evening.
Etowah coach Drew Noles said the performance of Davis was critical, and the coaching staff wanted to force the Lions to throw more because their running game was so prolific.
“(Davis has) played about four or five games for us,” Noles said. “He’s shown a lot of patience this year. We knew if we could make them throw it – although their quarterback is a great player – they’re a downhill running team. They run the football well.”
Noles said he was proud of the way his team responded after offensive lineman Seth Lowry went down with an injury on the first series of the game.
“It was a gutsy win for us because they were very physical,” Noles said. “That’s the best team we’ve played this year. We lost probably the leader of our team on the first drive of the game on the offensive line. (Lowry) is a great football player. They were already going to be tough to run it against, so we had to open it up a little bit. Derickey (Wright) played great tonight.”
Wright completed 10 of 17 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran for 48 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. Thomas carried the ball 12 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams caught three passes for 67 yards and a score. Emil Smith hauled in three passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Turbyfill led all rushers with 138 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, though 117 of those yards came in the first half.
The Blue Devils won their 11th game of the season, which is the most since the 1999 state championship team. They now turn their attention towards top-ranked and undefeated Briarwood. Noles said he’s looking forward to the challenge of playing the Lions, who have won three state championships under current coach Fred Yancey.
“We know (Briarwood is) a great program,” Noles said. “Coach Yancey is one of the winningest coaches in the state. They’ll be a great team.”