Asked to describe his team’s come-from-behind victory over previously unbeaten Pike Road in Friday’s second round of the AHSAA Class 5A state football playoffs, UMS-Wright head coach Terry Curtis said, “Amazing.”
He added, “There’s probably a lot more you could use, too.”
That’s for sure. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in quick fashion in the waning moments of the game to claim a 28-17 victory. It started at the 2:16 mark when Colby Stafford scored a touchdown on a 9-yard run that put the Bulldogs in front 14-10. But with 1:08 to play, Pike Road matched the score, taking a 17-14 lead.
It was then the UMS magic began. Stafford fielded the kickoff following Pike Road’s score and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown, putting the Bulldogs back in front 21-17. On the ensuing kickoff, Pike Road fumbled following a hard hit. UMS-Wright’s Cole Blalock scooped up the loose ball and returned it 33 yards for another TD and a 28-17 lead.
“I don’t think a lot of people have ever seen a game end kind of like that one did,” Curtis said. “You’ve had some like it. It reminded me of the Kick 6 (Auburn win over Alabama) and stuff like that. … I think we touched the ball three times and had three touchdowns. It was pretty amazing.
“A lot of people call it luck or whatever. But I know the amount of time that we spend on special teams. I don’t think it’s luck when you’ve prepared the right way. What do they say? Luck equals work and preparation; you make your luck. But that’s kind of the way we felt.
“We work all the time on kickoff returns. And when we’re on the field of play, we expect to return the kickoff all the way back.”
UMS wasn’t the only area team to come away with a victory last week in the second round of the playoffs. In fact, the other local teams that claimed wins — Saraland and Blount in Class 6A, St. Paul’s and Faith Academy in 5A — did so in an easier fashion than the Bulldogs. It sets up four playoff games this week with local teams, including a pair of rematches.
Blount, a 41-28 winner over Eufaula, travels to Spanish Fort in Class 6A play. Spanish Fort, which defeated Blount 14-10 in the regular season, rolled past Helena 40-7. In another rematch, UMS-Wright will take on Faith Academy on the Rams’ home field in Class 5A play. Faith, which topped Demopolis 31-6 last week, defeated UMS 28-21 in overtime in the regular season.
In other games, Central-Clay County, the two-time defending Class 5A state champion, travels to unbeaten St. Paul’s, which cruised to a 44-0 win over Selma last week. In Class 6A play, Saraland, a 31-0 winner over Lee of Montgomery last week, plays host to Opelika.
The season came to an end in the second round of play for three area teams. American Christian defeated Mobile Christian 27-21 in Class 4A, with Auburn defeating Daphne 13-7 and Central-Phenix City eliminating Theodore 30-24 in Class 7A play.
The UMS-Wright victory stood out from all the other games.Not only did the win come in unusual fashion, but it placed a spotlight on a program coming off three straight Class 4A titles that was bumped up to Class 5A play this season and, despite getting off to a slow start — at least by its own standards — has a shot at the 5A crown this year.
“I think the whole game was that (demonstrating the team’s playoff experience),’’ Curtis said. “We never got flustered and we kept our heads in the game. You know, we were probably outmanned at a couple of positions or so forth, but we kept making a play here and making a play there. And we’ve been in games like that (before) where the other team may have had more talent or their guys were bigger. Faster or stronger, but we always seemed to find a way to hang around.
“We needed to win a game like this because we lost four games this year that we’re used to winning. We lost two overtime games and we lost to St. Paul’s by two points. We’re used to winning those games and we didn’t this year. That was really big for our confidence to hang around, have a close game and actually win the game.’’
One of the teams that defeated UMS earlier this season is a team the Bulldogs face next — Faith Academy.
“Somebody said the other day, ‘It’s hard to beat somebody twice in one year,’ but when I thought about it, I said I’d rather be the one that beat the other guy (in the first meeting); it would give me a lot of confidence. But our kids are confident. (Faith) is a lot better than the first time we played them and we’re a lot better too. But that first game really won’t be a factor in this game.”
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