Especially when they’re played in the Valley.
In what amounted to a play-in game to the Class 4A playoffs, the Valley Cubs proved that superior will can triumph over superior talent.
“I thought our players showed great heart,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “They just refused to lose. They wanted to get in the playoffs, and they just played all out.”
Often, such a quote comes off as coach speak, but there is no denying the collective team effort that lifted the Cubs to victory over the stronger, faster Saints.
It only took 54 seconds for St. Clair County to demonstrate that athleticism, as Fabian Moody scored from 63 yards out to temporarily hush the crowd.
But the Cubs’ defense continued to make plays to keep the game within a score while their offense struggled. They went three-and-out on three of their first four possessions, but the defense forced an interception, a fumble and a turnover on downs during that time.
“We had a good homecoming crowd, and I feel like our crowd gave us a little momentum early in the game when we were kind of struggling,” Tucker said.
On its last drive of the first half, Alexandria began to move the ball. However, after Justin Bowen threw an incomplete pass on third-and-one from the Saints’ 16, the Cubs either had to attempt a field goal or to gain a yard.
But officials called unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on both teams. Officials marked off the Saints’ penalty as half the distance to the goal then marked 15 yards off against Alexandria and ruled it first down.
Both sidelines were furious with the ruling, but Bowen and DeAntae Owens kept their composure and connected on a 22-yard pass. Owens scored from a yard out on the next play to send the Cubs to the locker room trailing 7-6.
Owens scored two rushing touchdowns, intercepted a pass and kept another scoring drive alive with a one-handed catch.
“This was going to be the last time most of us took the field together here, and we just knew we had to win,” Owens said.
Owens’ little brother also came up big on one of the game’s most bizarre plays.
With Alexandria clinging to a 19-15 lead with four minutes to play, St. Clair County faced a third-and-12. The Cubs strung out quarterback Jervontes Goldsby, but he escaped. Justice Owens came from nowhere, stole the ball and ran it into field goal range.
He was among many Cubs who made an impact.
Jarline Lee carried 29 times and scored the go-ahead touchdown after shrugging off a Saints defender.
Tyler Burr made two impressive catches, one in traffic and one on the sideline that helped Alexandria stay on the field during two scoring drives.
Blake Sloan knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage, including one on fourth down on St. Clair County’s last-gasp drive.
It was a gutsy showing for a team that can usually be penciled in to the playoffs before the season starts but struggled out of the gates and faced injuries.
Qualifying for the playoffs made the journey worth the obstacles. Players and fans voiced their pleasure, and the typically reserved Tucker let loose for jumping side bumps with players and coaches.
“We started off 0-3,” he said. “Since then, we’ve only had two bad practices. Nobody has quit the team, and nobody has gone half-speed.”