Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Darrian Meads (left) looks avoid Rogers’ Ethan Truitt during the Eagles’ 12-0 victory over Rogers in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs on Nov. 17. (Alex Chaney)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Not many teams qualify for the state football quarterfinals with a two-game total of 24 points.
Count Hokes Bluff High School among those select few squads.
Sparked by a stifling defensive effort, solid special teams performance and a couple of big plays on offense late in the game, the Eagles (10-2) posted a 12-0 victory over Rogers last Friday (Nov. 17) in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Hokes Bluff hosts Fayette County this Friday (Nov. 24).
Facing an undefeated team that was averaging just shy of 37 points per game, the Eagles limited the Pirates (11-1) to 192 total yards, including just 82 yards on the ground. In Rogers’ 11 possessions for the game, seven ended in a punt, three on failed fourth down conversion attempts and one on a turnover. In addition, the visitors from Florence failed to convert a pair of first-half turnovers into points.
Hokes Bluff also struggled on offense, as the Eagles’ initial eight series went for naught. But the host finally hit paydirt on their third drive of the second half. Taking over at midfield following a Rogers punt, Hokes Bluff soon faced a third down and 16 from the Eagle 43-yard line. Quarterback Landon Johnson scrambled to his left and found Carson Eubanks at the Pirate 30. Eubanks then out-raced the Rogers defense to the end zone for the 57-yard score. The PAT failed but Hokes Bluff led 6-0 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“We set that play up as the game went on, and we finally caught them napping a little bit there,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “We caught them jumping the set screen, and give Landon and Carson credit for a great throw and a great catch and run.”
The ensuing Pirate drive ended on fourth down when Johnson batted away a pass attempt, and the visitors went three-and-out on their next possession.
Hokes Bluff was also forced to punt, but with 4:08 left in the game Ashton Gulledge knocked the ball loose and Braydon Hill recovered the fumble at the Rogers 10.
The Eagles failed to reach the end zone on three attempts, but on fourth down and goal from the 5 Johnson and Peyton Moore hooked up for the touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed but the hosts now enjoyed a 12-point cushion with 2:11 on the game clock.
“Landon made a good read on a tight end drag and Peyton made a pretty good catch,” said Robertson.
Rogers quickly went to the hurry-up offense and cashed in on Alex Rogers’ 34-yard TSD pass to Daniel Mitchell. The scored was nullified by a holding penalty, however, and Darrian Meads’ quarterback sack on a third and 17 and a pair of unsportsmanslike conduct penalties on the Pirates gave the ball back to the Eagles with just under a minute left. Johnson took consecutive kneels to run out the clock to secure Hokes Bluff’s second straight state quarterfinal appearance.
Meads finished with 77 yards on 26 carries. Johnson was 9 for 13 in passes for 118 yards, while Hill had four receptions for 44 yards.
“Every play counted tonight,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “We knew that [Rogers] was really strong up front and give them credit because they shut us down. Luckily we finally had a couple of plays [on offense]. It [came down to] field position and turnovers. We did terrible in the first half and couldn’t get field position. I thought we did okay offensively. It’s just that [Rogers] has a really good defense and they tackled Darrian pretty good tonight.
“We had some good field position in the second half because we were playing so well on defense. Just give our kids all the credit, and coach [Brian] Sexton and the defensive staff really worked hard to improve the defense.”
Johnson, who is also the Eagles’ punter, played a big part in the Pirates having poor field position most of the night with several kicks that were downed inside the Rogers 20-yard line.
“[Former Hokes Bluff football] coach [Donny] Payne used to say that a punt is an offensive play if you do it right, and Landon did a great job tonight.”
For Rogers, Alex Rogers completed 10 of 24 passes for 110 yards. Clay Crafton was the Pirates’ top rusher with 36 yards on six carries.
The Eagles twice avoided trouble in the first half when a lost fumble late in the first quarter and an interception early in the second period did not lead to a Rogers’ score. The Meanwhile, the stingy Hokes Bluff defense forced four punts and held on a fourth down conversion attempt late in the half with the visitors at the Eagle 34-yard line.
“This was playoff football tonight,” said Robertson. “It was rough and tough, but we’ve been here before. I’m really proud of our guys, and we’ve got some kids who have really grown up during the year. Hopefully we can keep it going for a while longer.”