For Anniston, the 47-14 winner, it was lack of focus.
For Jacksonville, it was lack of sync.
“I can’t get them to stop trying to take people off,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said.
That statement could be taken as somewhat odd, seeing how Anniston led 28-0 before Jacksonville put together a drive of more than four plays.
But it was the first drive, and the entire scoreless third quarter that concerned Bullock most.
Standout tailback Troymaine Pope had three carries for zero yards (2, 0 and minus-2) in the first drive, which the Bulldogs (6-3, 6-1) turned over on downs.
And therein came Jacksonville’s lack of sync.
While the defense was playing well, limiting Pope’s yardage — a very pedestrian nine carries for 38 yards — its offense struggled mightily.
On its first play from scrimmage, Jacksonville (1-8, 1-6) threw an interception. Then the Golden Eagles fumbled on the first play of their second drive. And while without turnover, the third drive netted two runs for no gain followed by an incomplete pass.
“We didn’t do anything special,” Jacksonville coach Roland Houston said of the gameplan for Pope. “We just did the slants we normally do … maybe tackled better.
“But offensively, we couldn’t keep from shooting ourselves in the foot. We just can’t get the two to play well at the same time — story of the season.”
While he was held without big yardage early, Pope accounted for the first Bulldog touchdown, shifting his way into the end zone from 5 yards out. He found his old self just before the half, beating the Jacksonville defense to the corner and then to the end zone to answer the Golden Eagles’ first score.
Pope downplayed his early struggles.
“It wasn’t nothing,” he said, then went on to his long run. “I’m just glad my offensive line blocked.”
Oddly enough, as Anniston’s first two touchdowns came off turnovers, Jacksonville’s did, too.
Tyler Ross started and finished the drive. First as a defensive back, he picked off an Anniston pass to give the Golden Eagles the ball at the Bulldog 35. Seven plays later, he found Dominique Thomas from 5 yards out on fourth-and-2 for the score.
Jacksonville’s final touchdown came on a 6-yard run by Corderro Little with 1:54 remaining.
“Never let it be said that I’m satisfied with a loss,” Houston said. “But our guys fought hard, played well at times and never gave up.
“I can live with that.”
Two fourth-quarter deep passes set the final margin and put the official finishing touches on Anniston’s Class 4A, Region 6 championship.
But the stern look on Bullock’s face wasn’t one of celebration. Before the Bulldogs head into the postseason, they’ll get the primer they need, he said.
“We’re not good enough to take games,” said Bullock turning his attention to the regular-season finale with Class 5A Briarwood Christian. “They’re about as good as it gets in 5A, it’ll be a tough test. If we take that one off, we’ll get embarrassed.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.