Blue Devils top Mae Jemison, advance to second round

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 By Chris McCarthy/Editor

Every current member of the Etowah High football team is entering unknown territory this week.
As a result of their 44-27 win over Mae Jemison in a first round Class 5A state playoff game last Friday (Nov. 4) in Attalla, the Blue Devils (9-2) advanced to the second round for the first time since the 2011 season.
Etowah travels to Kimberly this Friday (Nov. 11) to take on Mortimer Jordan.
Coming out of halftime ahead 24-11, the Blue Devils gained a 27-point cushion courtesy of a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes by Daulton Hyatt, who wound up completing 9 of 11 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Andy Noles.
But a pair of Etowah fumbles in the fourth period gave the Panthers some life. The visitors converted both turnovers into touchdowns, with the second score brining the Huntsville squad within 38-27 with 2:38 left in the game.
Etowah’s Emaje Graves recovered the ensuing onside kick at midfield, however, and two plays later Cory Thomas scored from 43 yards out to secure the win.
“There’s six college football players on [Mae Jemison’s] team, and their quarterback (Brandon Crosby) is such a great player,” said Etowah head coach Drew Noles. “But this is probably the best complete game we’ve put together since I’ve been here – offensively, defensively and special teams. [Mae Jemison] scored those two late [touchdowns], but I think that we were in control for the second half. Every time that they punched us, we were able to counter. But we’re still trying to piece things together and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Drew Noles pointed out that the Blue Devils were playing both their fifth left offensive tackle and right guard of the season.
“Tonight was the first time that (sophomore) Alex Howard has played on the offensive line, and he started in the first round of the playoffs. He is a selfless player who was a tight end and linebacker and said that he’d do what was best for the team.”
Thomas rushed 19 times for 153 yards, while Caleb Horton added 68 yards on 12 attempts. Hyatt ran for 45 yards on five carries. Andy Noles had four catches for 161 yards.
Two-time All-State center and four-year starter Payton Nance savored the victory, noting that the EHS offensive line held together all season despite a rash of injures that required the services of several greenhorns.
“It really feels great to get the monkey off our backs,” he said. “Losing Dylan and Austin [to injuries] was rough, but we just adopted the mindset of next man up. Guys like Connor Morgan and Trey Cole and Alex Howard really stepped ump and I’m proud of those guys.”
The hosts started off with a bang. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Hyatt found Andy Noles for a 62-yard touchdown. Raul Hernandez kicked the first of his five extra points on the night for a 7-0 lead at 10:35 of the first quarter.
Mae Jemison briefly went ahead 8-7 later in the period on Crosby’s 15-yard TD pass to Harry Crump and Daquon Godfrey’s two-point conversion run.
That advantage lasted for all of one minute and eight seconds. A 52-yard Hyatt-to-Noles pass completion set up Etowah at the Panther 24, from where Horton ran for a touchdown with 3:14 left in the opening frame.
Mae Jemison’s subsequent 71-yard, 13-play drive ended with Francisco Murillo’s 31-yard field goal, drawing the visitors within 14-11.
The Blue Devils scored their next touchdown off a Panther turnover. Emil Smith recovered a fumble at the Mae Jemison 20-yard line, and a 19-yard reception by Malik Wilson set up Hyatt’s 4-yard TD pass to Andy Noles on fourth and goal. Hernandez pushed through the PAT for a 21-11 lead with five minutes to go before halftime.
With 1:13 on the clock, the hosts drove from their own 3 to the Panther 28, from where Hernandez nailed a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give Etowah a 24-11 lead at intermission.
After forcing a punt on the second half’s opening possession, Etowah put together a five-play, 78-yard series that culminated in Hyatt’s 20-yard scoring pass to Smith for a 31-11 lead at 7:51 of the third quarter.
The Blue Devil defense was poised to force a second straight three-and-out, but a blocked punt was scooped up at the Panther 5 by Crosby, who then connected with Crump for 44 yards and a first down near midfield. That’s where the drive ended, as Etowah held on a fourth down conversion attempt.
Two play later, Hyatt and Andy Noles teamed up for a 45-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 38-11 with 2:47 left in the third.
The hosts were aiming to put the game away with their third series of the half when the Panthers recovered a fumble at the EHS 45. Crosby and Jamar Jackson quickly hooked up for a 35-yard pass that moved the ball inside the Blue Devil 10, and on fourth and goal Crosby and Jackson finished the series with a 4-yard touchdown. Godfrey ran in the two-point conversion, bringing the visitors within 38-19 at the 10:35 mark of the fourth.
Etowah had another opportunity to ice the game when a 38-yard pass from Hyatt to Deaundre Williams gave the hosts a first-and-goal from the Panther 3. But the Blue Devils fumbled away the ball on the next play, and Mae Jemison embarked on a 16-play, 95-yard possession that ended with Crosby’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Shon Spralling. The two-point conversion was good shrinking the EHS advantage to 11 points with 2:38 remaining in the game.
But Smith recovered the onside kick and Thomas scored with 1:48 on the clock to put finally put away the Huntsville squad.
“We’re going to Mortimer Jordan next, and that’s what we’ll focus on,” said Noles. “There’s eight [playoff] teams left in the north, and they’re all pretty good. We’re excited about the opportunity.”

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