By Randy Kennedy
A huge crowd at Cooper Stadium watched UMS-Wright turn two late turnovers into a victory over Old Shell Road rival St. Paul’s that was as important as it was improbable.
The Bulldogs trailed all night in the battle of Class 5A, Region 1 rivals. But a fumble recover by Walker Wilcox and interception by Clark Turner turned the momentum and helped the Bulldogs to a 24-13 win over the defending state champions.
“All of our hard work is paying off,” said Turner, who has been a key player on offense and defense, or in the case of Friday night, both. “We had to make a big play. I knew they liked to run that curl route, so I stepped in and made the play.”
Turner intercepted the ball on the UMS-Wright 25 and returned it all the way to the St. Paul’s 18. Two Cole Blalock runs later, the Bulldogs were in the end zone with a 24-13 lead with 1:24 remaining in the game.
The interception and short touchdown drive capped a comeback from 10-0 down at halftime and 13-10 down midway through the fourth quarter.
Blalock was a workhorse, as usual. He rushed 29 times for 110 yards, including touchdown runs of 2 and 9 yards to cap off the Bulldogs’ final two drives. Two of his final three carries went for touchdowns. Blalock amassed those numbers despite his longest run covering only 11 yards.
“My line killed it tonight,” Blalock said. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen them block. That’s a family over there. They love me and I love them.”
UMS-Wright turned the ball over five times without forcing a takeaway over the first three and half quarters. But the late turnovers by St. Paul’s proved to be the difference.
“We made too many mistakes that you can’t make in a rivalry game,” said St. Paul’s coach Steve Mask, whose team is now 1-3 on the season after going 15-0 and winning the state championship a year ago. “We’ve still got a chance. We play a very big game next week against Faith Academy. I don’t expect anybody on this team to give up.”
UMS-Wright (3-1) now leads the all-time series 22-21. The Bulldogs are likely to move up from No. 10 in the state rankings, while St. Paul’s will almost certainly drop out of the state poll.
“Our defense played great all night,” said UMS-Wright coach Terry Curtis, whose team has yielded a total of 26 points in four games this season. “I told them at the half that they kept us in the game. We just needed something good to happen and it finally did.”
Jaylen Sutton led the St. Paul’s offense with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Grayson Miles picked off two passes and also kicked a 33-yard field goal for the Saints.
UMS-Wright will take a week off before playing three straight road games.
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