Is Pope a Bulldog?
Troymaine Pope, that monster back, scored all seven of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns Friday leading them to a 49-35 win over Cleburne County.
He finished with 19 carries for 326 yards and pulled away in the second half from what was for three quarters a slugfest between top-caliber prospects —himself and Cleburne County all-purpose back Rocky Hayes.
Pope scored on runs of 85, 56, 5, 46, 18 and 13 yards. His first touchdown came on a wide-open 30-yard reception.
After shaking hands, Pope stood at midfield, sweat still pouring from his brow. As he answered questions from reporters, keeping his eyes opened looked like it took more effort than most of the scoring runs.
“Just wasn’t focused last week,” Pope said of the Center Point loss. “It just makes me sick.
“They don’t want to see us again.”
Pope’s seven-touchdown night fell two short of the state record set in 2008 by Hubertville’s Tommy Haley-Ricks, according to the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s online record book. Dadeville’s Brandon Burks had seven last week against Bullock County.
Hayes did his best to match Pope’s spectacular night, putting up four scores of his own. He started Cleburne County’s scoring in the first quarter with an 8-yard reception. He answered Pope’s 85-yarder going airborne in a race for the corner from 2 yards out.
Hayes went down hard in the third quarter, but returned and looked unfazed. He finished with 237 all-purpose yards, with 115 yards coming on the ground on 18 carries.
“The main difference tonight was mine plays both ways,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said.
After Pope’s 5-yard run, which was set up by a blocked punt, Anniston did what coach Eddie Bullock feared it would do: Kick to Hayes.
He fielded the ball with a running start and made just one cut and outraced Anniston’s defense 85 yards for the score.
“I thought we might could get them down,” Bullock said. “… then we went and kicked to (Hayes).
“I was worried about him all night. Him, number two (Antonine Phillips), number four (Trey Bolton) — all of them.”
And all of them and more contributed as Cleburne County battled back time and again, tying the score at 6, 14, 28 and pulling within a touchdown in the final quarter.
The Tigers employed a never-give-up attitude to the fullest, scoring their first three touchdowns on fourth down. Chris Ervin had the first with a 1-yard plunge. Hayes’ 2-yarder capped an 80-yard drive and Matt Norton’s 1-yard sneak capped another 80-yard drive.
Before Hayes’ first touchdown, Cleburne County had been denied on fourth down on the previous drive. This all coming one week after Cleburne County manage only a field goal in a 10-3 loss to Lineville.
“I knew we were going to have to score points,” said Shortt, “and score a lot of points.
“We figured this one would be in the 40s.”
The 40s is a lot more pleasing to Bullock than the seven points Anniston put up last week. And while it’s still early, the victory puts the Bulldogs on track to repeat as Class 4A, Region 6 champion.
“This is a blue-collar team,” Bullock said. “I knew our offense was going to pull us through.”
Pope said he knew he was going to get back on the same track as last year when he scored 30 touchdowns despite missing a game due to injury.
But seven touchdowns? Sure, he said.
And given that Pope all but called Week 1’s performance a fluke, he didn’t even bat his weary lids when it was pointed out that with a mulligan, this put him on pace for 63. That’s doable, too.
“As long as I stay healthy,” he said.
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.