For Center Point, formerly known as E.B. Erwin, it was the launch of a new era, and the launch went much better than the tougher-upper.
J’Karys Dunklin rushed for 133 yards and Michael Gilmore passed for 160 to lead Center Point to a 33-7 victory in the school’s first ever game under its new name.
Anniston got a team-high 58 rushing yards from running back Troymaine Pope, who also turned in two long kickoff returns. One went 91 yards for the Bulldogs lone score.
The takeaway for Anniston was clear. The Bulldogs have a lot of work to do before next week’s region opener at Cleburne County.
“We’ve got to play with a high level of energy,” second-year Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said. “We didn’t bring that energy tonight. I just didn’t see it.”
That’s because Anniston (0-1) had a hard time generating it. The Bulldogs managed 309 all-purpose yards, the majority of which came on Pope’s kickoff returns.
The passing game, always a threat under former Anniston quarterback Josiah Atkins, managed just 32 yards with newcomer Spencer Howard. Without Anniston showing much of a passing threat Thursday, Center Point keyed on the run.
“There were nine in the box,” Pope said. “I told my coaches we needed to spread it out.”
Center Point coach Willie Miller said it’s no secret it’s Pope who makes Anniston go.
“He is a man among boys, and if you don’t doggone acknowledge the fact that he’s there, you can look pretty bad,” Miller said. “They rely on him way too much, and that’s what has happened. People are now focusing on him.”
Bullock said it’s a matter of new skill players gaining confidence and developing into greater threats.
“We have to have some other guys step up, and we just didn’t get in synch,” he said. “You’ve got to give them confidence to get them up.”
Pope still produced Anniston’s best moments, including his 91-yard kickoff return to bring the Bulldogs within 14-7 in the second quarter.
“I don’t know how it happened,” Pope said. “People just blocked, and I just saw the crease.”
After Center Point went up 20-7, Pope nearly did it again, returning the next kickoff 71 yards. He didn’t make it to the end zone, however, and Anniston didn’t capitalize on the field position.
Center Point got on the board first on Gilmore’s 7-yard pass to James Jackson in the first quarter, and DeCarlos Smith made it 14-0 on a 4-yard run at 11:06 of the second quarter.
Gilmore’s 13-yard pass to Dunklin made it 20-7 at halftime.
The Eagles opened the second half with a 7-play, 71-yard drive culminating in Cedric Powell’s 4-yard touchdown run to make it 26-7, and Gilmore capped their next possession with a 13-yard pass to Cedric Poole to make it 33-7.
Gilmore hit on 10 of 24 passes for 160 yards and three scores on the night. Center Point also had 256 rushing yards.
For Miller, it felt good to be able to say Center Point is 1-0.
“It means that we’ve got something to look forward to next week,” he said. “Take it one step at a time.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.