Photo: Sardis High’s Jacob Hopper (17) avoids the tackle of Hokes Bluff’s Braydon Hill (10) and stretches the ball across the goal line for a touchdown while Will Clemons (7) looks on during the Eagles’ a 55-28 victory last Friday (Nov. 2) in Sardis City. (Courtesy of Bentley Gray Photography)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
On the heels of suffering its first loss of the season against Jacksonville, Class 4A No. 5 Hokes Bluff rebounded in fine fashion last Friday (Nov. 2) with a 55-28 victory over Sardis.
The visiting Eagles totaled 522 yards, 257 of them courtesy of Darrian Meads, who ran 30 times and scored five touchdowns.
Meads had 167 yards and four TDs by halftime, at which point the visitors led 28-14. The Lions kept within striking distance with Jay Owens’ one-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Hooper in the final seconds of the second quarter, but Hokes Bluff notched touchdowns on all three of its third quarter possessions to put the game out of reach.
Sardis finished with 363 total yards, 163 via the rush.
Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson pointed to the stellar performance of the Eagle offensive line as a major factor in the win.
“Obviously Darrian was pretty hot, but those guys pretty much dominated. This game didn’t mean anything but pride for our guys, and I think showed up tonight. I thought Sardis would play hard and they did, and we’ve got to tighten up a bit defensively, because we couldn’t get off the field a lot on third down. We had some guys banged up and our technique wasn’t very good tonight, but I give the Sardis coaches credit for giving us some looks that we didn’t do a good job on. They threw it around and they’re pretty good on offense.”
Hokes Bluff quarterback Austin Gulledge finished with 230 yards of offense. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns while rushing nine times for 90 yards.
Will Clemons led the Eagles in tackles with 15, followed by Jackson Fielding with seven and Gulledge with six.
Following a Sardis three-and-out on the game’s opening series, the Eagles fed the ball to Meads on five consecutive plays, the final one being a four-yard touchdown run at 7:55 of the first quarter. Ethan Whitcomb kicked the first of his seven extra points for the 7-0 lead.
Gulledge came up with an interception on the ensuing Lion drive but Hokes Bluff went three and out and the hosts took over at their own 40. Sardis kept the drive alive with a key conversion on a fourth and 3. A 17-yard run by Vaughn brought the ball to the Eagle 18, from where Owens threw an 18-yard TD pass to Hopper. Sardis missed the PAT, allowing Hokes Bluff to maintain the lead at 7-6 with 23 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Less than two minutes later, however, Meads hit paydirt from five yards out. The touchdown was set up by Gulledge’s 36-yard pass to Carson Eubanks.
The following Lion series was short-lived, as Sardis fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage and Hunter Holcomb recovered for the visitors. Meads found the end zone four plays later for a 15-point advantage.
The Eagles made it 28-6 by way of Meads’ 23-yard TD midway through the second frame before a 13-play, 72-yard drive by the hosts resulted in Owens’ scoring pass shortly before the break. Trent Presley’s two-point conversion pass to Hopper drew the hosts within 28-14.
It took Hokes Bluff four plays into the second half to make it 35-14 when Gulledge and Braydon Hill teamed up for a 50-yard touchdown.
Sardis kept within striking distance with a 57-yard Owens-to-Presley TD pass, but the visitors widened the gap to 42-21 on Gulledge’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Noblitt at 7:55 of the third period.
The Lions were forced to punt, and Meads’ four-yard TD run at 3:05 extended the lead to 28 points and for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach.
The teams exchanged touchdowns during the final 12 minutes. Owens tossed a 10-yard scoring pass to Hopper at 10:31 and Mason Golden ran in a two-yard TD with 6:52 remaining.
Owens was 14 for 18 in passing for 200 yards and four touchdowns. Jacob Hopper caught seven passes for 87 yards. Drew Vaughn paced the Lion ground game with 123 yards on 23 carries.
Sardis head coach Gene Hill acknowledged that his defense did not have an answer for both Meads and the Eagle front five.
“They lined up and ran [the ball] at us at will. We made some plays on offense and got the ball in the end zone but we couldn’t stop them when they had the ball.”
Hokes Bluff (9-1) hosts Central-Florence in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs this Friday. Sardis finished the season at 3-7.