Photo: Hokes Bluff Austin Gulledge (2) runs into Fayette County’s Chance Stevenson during the Eagles’ 35-27 loss in the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A state football playoffs on Nov. 24. (Alex Chaney)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Hokes Bluff’s quest to play in the state semifinals for the second straight year came to an end on Black Friday.
Helped by four Eagle turnovers in the second half, Fayette County outscored the hosts 21-7 over the final 24 minutes en route to a 35-27 victory in the third round of the Class 4A state football playoffs on Nov. 24 at Hokes Bluff.
The Tigers (11-2) host Saks in the semifinal round on Dec. 1, while Hokes Bluff ended its season at 10-3.
The Eagles went into halftime with the momentum after Landon Johnson’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Carson Eubanks in the final seconds of the second quarter provided Hokes Bluff with a 21-14 lead. Johnson further hampered the Tigers’ cause with his interception on the final play of the first half.
But the Hokes Bluff offense stalled during much of the third period, as the Eagles ran only eight plays from scrimmage for 30 yards. Following a Hokes Bluff punt on the opening possession, the Tigers put together a 13-play, 80-yard series that took more then seven minutes off the clock and ended on Chance Stevenson’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Darion Walker. Russell Bagwell’s PAT tied the game with four minutes remaining in the third frame.
Matters quickly grew worse for the hosts on the next play from scrimmage, when the visitors recovered a fumble at the Eagle 26-yard line. But Hokes Bluff survived the miscue when the defense stiffened and held on a fourth down and 3 from the 7.
The Eagle defenders were soon back on the field after T’Marvic Smith intercepted a pass three plays into the ensuing Hokes Bluff series. Fayette County went three-and-out, but the next Hokes Bluff possession lasted just three plays before Smith recovered a fumble and retuned it 45 yards to the Eagle 12. This time the Tigers took advantage of their good fortune when Stevenson and Jamarious Jackson connected for a 5-yard touchdown, and Bagwell’s extra point gave Fayette County the lead for good at the 7:26 mark of the fourth quarter.
Hokes Bluff’s fourth and final turnover occurred 17 seconds later when Justin Humphrey tipped and intercepted a pass at the Eagle 40. Seven plays later, Stevenson found the end zone on a 1-yard keeper to put the hosts in a 34-21 hole.
There was still time for a Hokes Bluff rally with 5:14 left in the game, however, and the Eagles responded to Stevenson’s score with a 53-yard touchdown run by Darrian Meads. The PAT failed but the hosts were within seven points with 3:50 still on the game clock.
The Eagle defense did its job on the next drive when Peyton Moore batted down a Stevenson pass on a fourth down conversion attempt.
Taking over with 2:52 remaining, Hokes Bluff moved to its 41-yard line, where Meads ran for 10 yards on a crucial fourth down and 4.
The Eagles were called for a 5-yard penalty on the next play, however, and the game came down to a fourth and 9 from the Tiger 48. Johnson’s pass attempt was broken up, and Fayette County took possession and Stevenson ran out the clock with consecutive knees.
Hokes Bluff finished with 321 total yards, including 260 on the ground, but only 108 of those yards came after halftime. The Tigers had 353 overall yards.
“We sputtered a little bit on offense a little bit [in the second half] and [Fayette County] took it to us after we turned [the ball] over,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “I felt coming into tonight that it would be about what it was – whoever scored last would win. I thought we did a really good job of controlling the ball in the first half but we didn’t have the ball much in the second half, and when we did, we gave it right back to them. We also stayed on the field way too long on defense in the second half, and they wore us down a little bit. Fayette County’s] got a good team with really good athletes and coach [Waldon] Tucker does a heck of a job. But I think we played extremely hard and fought to the end.”
Meads rushed for 225 yards and three touchdowns, while Johnson was 8 for 17 in passing for 61 yards. Eubanks had three catches for 41 yards.
Hokes Bluff started the game on the right foot with Johnson’s interception on the third play from scrimmage. The Eagles went three-and-out, and the teams exchanged punts for most of the first quarter until Stevenson threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Darius Nails with just over a minute left in the period. Bagwell tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 Tiger lead.
Hokes Bluff answered with an 8-play, 63-yard possession that yielded Meads’ 15-yard touchdown run at 9:45 of the second quarter. Dane Driskell pushed through the PAT for the tie.
Fayette County proceeded to go three and out, and the hosts soon went ahead 13-7 when Meads took it to the house from 15 yards out at 5:34.
The Eagles maintained the advantage until 36 seconds remained in the first half when Stevenson polished off a 51-yard, 12-play series with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Bagwell’s extra point made it 14-13 in favor of the Tigers, but Hokes Bluff wasn’t content to run out the clock. Starting at the Eagle 39 with 24 seconds left, Meads ran for 14 yards and Johnson passed to Eubanks for 11 more to reach the Tiger 26, where Johnson and Eubanks hooked up for a touchdown pass and a 21-14 lead going into halftime.
For Fayette County, Stevenson completed 11 for 25 passes for 217 yards. He also ran 20 times for 60 yards. Walker had six receptions for 96 yards, while Nails caught five passes for 113 yards. Zackary Engle paced the Tiger ground game with 68 yards on 17 carries.
“Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and tonight [Fayette County] was just a little bit better then us,” said Robertson. “But we’ve had a heck of a year and I’m proud of our kids. We struggled the first few years with this group of seniors, but they won 10 games this year and nine last year. They’re a super bunch of kids who are better guys than they are players and they’ve really matured into fine young men. It’s been a pleasure to coach them.”