Photo: Westbrook Christian’s Joe Tucker runs after a catch as Cleveland’s Gary Gilliland (2) pursues during the Warriors’ 7-0 loss in high school football last Thursday (Oct. 24) in Rainbow City. (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick /Sports Correspondent
It was a physical, old school knock-down-drag-out football game last Thursday (Oct. 24) night at Jack Osborn Stadium, and Cleveland left Rainbow City with a 7-0 win over Westbrook Christian.
The Panthers (5-4, 4-2) earned the No. 3 seed in Class 2A, Region 6, while the loss gave the Warriors (6-3, 3-3) the No. 4 seed. Westbrook will travel to Aliceville in round 1 of the 2A state playoffs, while Cleveland will travel to Sulligent.
The lone score of the game came with 22 seconds left in the first half. Cleveland’s Pierce Gilliland capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown. A 22-yard pass from Elijah Longshore to Matthew Walker set up the touchdown run.
Westbrook’s second drive of the second half made its way all the way down to the Panther 4-yard line before the Warriors turned it over on downs. Westbrook did not see the ball again until 2:11 remained in the fourth quarter. Westbrook threatened near the end of the game after Will Noles found Brandon Morgan for a long gain deep into Cleveland territory, but the Warriors were called for offensive pass interference.
“We had opportunities,” said Westbrook coach Drew Noles. “I think we had it inside the 10 twice and didn’t get anything out of it. We have a field goal kicker where we could get points, but possessions were at a premium tonight. It was a physical football game. I think both teams played their guts out. It is a tough one to lose.”
Westbrook fumbled on its opening possession of the game, and its next three possessions ended with punts. The Warriors did not fare much better offensively in the second half, either. Cleveland dominated time of possession and Westbrook only had three drives. Westbrook punted once and turned the ball over on down on its other two series.
While Westbrook only allowed seven points and played very physical, Noles said his defense made too many mistakes that kept several Cleveland drives alive.
“Although we held them to seven points, we made a lot of mistakes defensively where we should’ve gotten off the field earlier than what we did,” Noles said. “Those are things we have to fix. It’s just something we’ve got to get better at. Physicality was not a problem tonight.”
The total yardage was almost even for the night. Cleveland barely outgained Westbrook, 151-148, and there were 18 combined penalties.
Warrior running back Karmichael Cattling only rushed for 26 yards on 12 carries, but he did surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Noles attributed Westbrook’s struggles offensively to Cleveland’s quickness on its defensive front.
“(Cleveland) is quick up front, and they created a lot of problems for us with their quickness,” he said. “This was a heck of a game. We knew all season this was going to be a big time game for us, but we just really struggled blocking their quickness up front.”
Will Noles was 7-for-11 for 57 yards, and five of those passes went to Joe Tucker, who had five receptions for 52 yards. Tucker also recorded an interception on defense. John Reese Bellew led the Warriors on the ground as he rushed for 68 yards on eight carries. Carson Wiggins recorded 12 tackles for Westbrook defensively, followed by Carl Henry and John Harvey with six each and Jai’Shawn Cattling with five. Henry also had three sacks and blocked a punt. Cattling and Cade Phillips also had a sack, while Wiggins broke up two passes.
Westbrook is in the playoffs for the third straight season. The Warriors have not won a playoff game since 2010, but Noles said his focus will be on correcting mistakes.
Before their first round matchup against Aliceville, the Warriors travel to take on Sand Rock to close out the regular season this Friday (Nov. 1). Cleveland hosts undefeated Susan Moore.
“I absolutely love (this team) as much as I did before the game,” Noles said. “I love the effort we have. I thought we fought like crazy. We will practice 100 percent for Sand Rock next week, and then we’ll worry about the playoffs the following week.”