And when the stories were told after Alexandria’s 40-33 win over Jacksonville, who belonged to the locker room settings wouldn’t have been one’s first inclination.
Jarline Lee capped Alexandria’s first-half crush with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Cubs a 33-7 lead. Somewhere around that time, Valley Cub coach Frank Tucker’s blood was coming to a boil.
“I saw a few of our kids smiling,” he said. “I was mad … I knew what (Jacksonville) had.”
In the second half Jacksonville had a potent 1-2 rushing attack of Cordero Little and Dominique Thomas. Where it was in the first half was puzzling to even coach Roland Houston — “If I knew, I’d probably sleep a little bit better tonight,” he said.
Aside from a tit-for-tat touchdown to start the game, Jacksonville’s offense was non-existent.
But in stark contrast to his contemporary’s speech, Roland said that even with the lopsided scoreboard he really wasn’t that rough on his players
“I told them it could end up one of those 50-7 games or we could try to make it a ballgame,” he said. “I told them, I didn’t know if we could win it, but we could at least have a chance.”
And as Houston paced the sideline, left hand clasping his right behind his back, that chance began to unfold.
While 100-yard nights by Little and Thomas helped fuel the second-half comeback, that wasn’t the derivation of the difference in Houston’s eyes. It was the end rampant running of Alexandria’s own 1-2 punch: Lee and Justice Owens.
After a first half where Lee scored on runs of 11 and 2 yards and Justice on runs of 19, 49 and 21, the duo produced only one more score — an 8-yard by Lee on fourth-and-1 — and a total of 75 yards. The two finished with 174 and 94 yards, respectively.
“In the first half, the missed tackles killed us,” Houston said. “I didn’t think we were in bad position so much as it was just so many missed tackles.”
Whatever the reason for Jacksonville’s halftime turnaround, it was evident in the team’s swagger. After Little scored his second touchdown (11 yards), the Golden Eagles were clearly a team inspired.
Little’s 67-yarder set up Thomas’ touchdown that put the game at two scores, 33-19. Little finished with 138 yards on 12 carries, while Thomas, a fullback, had 128 yards on 16 touches.
Little also had an easy 19-yard touchdown reception that he said, “was open all night long.”
After the two teams traded punts then fumbles, Jacksonville’s fourth-quarter charge was fortified with one play.
After a sizeable Alexandria punt was bounding for the sideline, diminutive Maxwell Thurmond ignored the quick-closing defender, jumped to field it on one hop and tightroped the sideline.
His return gave the Golden Eagles just 34 yards to go on the touchdown that closed the deficit to 33-26.
“I just saw an open lane,” Thurmond said. “I wanted to do something — we didn’t play with any intensity in the first half.”
The teams swapped touchdowns late and Alexandria batted down a Jacksonville pass as time expired to cling to the win.
The loss drops Jacksonville to 1-3; the win puts Alexandria in a good position for a playoff berth on a night when region foes Cleburne County and Anniston both lost. Tucker admitted as much, but quickly warned, “there’s a lot of football left to play.”
“But I don’t think I’m going to have to have give another speech on taking people for granted,” 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.