Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Ashton Gulledge (2) attempts a pass during the Eagles’ 35-12 win over Sardis on Nov. 1. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Hokes Bluff relied on a pair of four-year starters for a 35-12 win over Sardis on senior night at Mike Robertson Stadium in Hokes Bluff on Friday (Nov. 1).
Running back Darrian Meads and quarterback Ashton Gulledge combined for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the last regular season home game of their careers, and the senior class earned its 37th win.
“I’m proud of our seniors,” said Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year. This team’s faced a lot of adversity, and I give our seniors of credit. 7-3… first of the year I would’ve said ‘yes sir I’ll take it all day and make the playoffs.’”
Sardis (5-5) mounted a 16-play drive to open the game, but the series stalled after the Eagles stuffed the Lions on 4th-and-2 from the 5-yard line. On Hokes Bluff’s first play from the 5, Meads broke several tackles for a 70-yard run. Fullback Hunter Burke scored on the next play from 25 yards out to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter.
“We had a good drive at the first of the game,” said Sardis coach Gene Hill. “We were really executing well and then get down there and come away with no points, then turn around and give up a big play behind that kind of took the air out of us a little bit.”
The next Lion next drive stalled, and the Eagles marched down the field on a 13-play drive. The possession ended with a missed field goal but Sardis could not capitalize, as its next two drives were three-and-outs.
Hokes Bluff’s second scoring drive was almost as quick as its first.
Gulledge found Burke for a 49-yard gain on the opening play of the series, and Meads punched it in two plays later from 1-yard out to extend the lead to 14-0 with 6:27 left in the opening half.
The Eagles threatened to score again later in the half but Gulledge was intercepted by Peyton Wehrwein on fourth down from the 23-yard line.
On the opening drive of the second half, Hokes Bluff moved quickly down the field, utilizing a heavy dosage of Meads on the drive. Meads scored a 20-yard touchdown to push the lead to 21-0 with 7:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Sardis responded with another long drive and kept the ball on the ground for the majority of the possession. Luke Morris punched the ball in from three yards out to put the Lions on the board. The extra point was blocked but the visitors cut their deficit to 21-6 with 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
However, it didn’t take the Eagles long to respond.
A good kick return by Jalen Robinson gave Hokes Bluff quality field position, and Gulledge score on the final play of the third quarter on a 49-yard quarterback keeper to extend the lead to 28-6 entering the fourth.
The Sardis offense continued to have success on its next drive. Jay Owens completed a 37-yard pass to Temon Wilson to start the drive, and Owens capped off the possession with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Hopper to trim the margin to 28-12 with 9:07 left in the game.
Hokes Bluff went three-and-out on its ensuing possession but quickly forced a Sardis punt that went out of bounds at the Lion 35-yard line. Meads put the exclamation point on the victory with an 8-yard touchdown run that was set up by a 26-yard pass from Gulledge to Robinson.
“Give Sardis credit,” Robertson said. “Coach Hill’s done a great job with this team making the playoffs in 5A. They played us tough. I’m proud of our coaches, too. Coach (Brian) Sexton, Coach (Jeff) Noah and Coach (Jake) Ball, all of them on the defensive side holding a pretty good team to 12 points. They’ve been scoring points all year.
“(Sardis) had a good scheme to stop the run. We threw it a lot early. I’m really proud of the effort and winning on senior night.”
Meads led the way on the ground with 151 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Gulledge completed 6-12 passes for 128 yards and he rushed for 84 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. He also recorded an interception defensively. The Eagles outgained the Lions 398-263.
Owens completed 15 of his 25 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. Morris rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Hopper hauled in five passes for 41 yards and a score.
Sardis earned the No. 3 seed in Class 5A, Region 6 and travel to take on defending state champion Central High School of Clay County in round one. Hill said his team has to improve and play better next week.
“You’ve got to put this behind you,” Hill said. “Win, loss, whatever, there’s no difference. Everyone has to start over after this game’s over and done with. We have to move on and try to get better next week. Half the teams in the state won’t be playing next week, so at least we’ll get any opportunity to play. We have to play a little bit better.”
Hokes Bluff earned the No. 4 seed in its region and travel to No. 4 Northside (Northport) for a first round matchup. The Eagles have had success in the past traveling in the first round, and Robertson again credited his senior class with getting to this point.
“If you get by the first round, it can be an advantage,” he said. “If we’re healthy, I don’t think we’re a 4 seed. But we are, so we have to go on the road and win.
“Darrian and Ashton have had a heck of a career, and I wanted to mention them. We have 16 good seniors, and they’re great competitors. I’m just proud. The game didn’t mean anything, but 7-3 means a lot more to me than 6-4.”