He kept powering into the heart of Woodland’s defense, and Red Bay kept driving, all the way from its 8-yard line to the Bobcats’ 4 with their second-round, Class 2A playoff game hanging in the balance.
Woodland finally came up with a stop, and Clay Monatt missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 20 seconds to play. Woodland survived, 18-15, to earn yet another third-round shot.
“The good Lord has shined favorably upon me. That’s all you can say,” Woodland coach Larry Strain said with a relieved laugh. “But really, it’s got to be a tribute to our kids.
“We practice long. We stay in that weight room forever, and over the years, it’s become where they expect to be in that third round.”
Woodland (10-2) will play its third-round game at Reeltown (11-1), which beat Sheffield 35-12 on Friday.
The Bobcats have made nine consecutive playoff appearances and reached the third round four times over that span, including this year and 2011. They reached the 2A finals in 2004 and 2006.
But things looked grim as Belue led Red Bay’s final drive. Starting at the Tigers’ 8 with 7:37 to play, he ran the ball on 12 of 16 plays, with runs of 21 and 14 yards along the way.
The 5-foot-10, 235-pound senior rushed 24 times for 148 yards on the night, and 75 of his yards came on Red Bay’s last-gasp drive.
But it came down to one last series, which Red Bay started with a first down at Woodland’s 11.
“I just told my teammates that we had to stand up for each other and take him down and don’t let him through,” said middle linebacker Tyler Rollins, who led Woodland with 12 tackles.
Belue ran over left guard for two yards on first down. After Woodland drew an offsides penalty to move the ball to the 5, Woodland stopped Austin Childers for a 2-yard loss.
After a Red Bay timeout with 33.8 seconds left, the Tigers came back with Belue on third down, but Woodland stopped him for a 2-yard gain. That forced another timeout with 28.3 seconds left.
Red Bay coach John Ritter elected to go for a game-tying field goal. Monatt missed wide right, and Woodland quarterback John Wes Adcock took a knee to kill the final 22 seconds.
“That was a great last drive — seven minutes and 91 yards,” Ritter said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys. All year long, they never let down, and that showed in the fourth quarter.”
Woodland trailed 7-0 at halftime but rallied for 18 third-quarter points to take an 18-7 lead.
Colby Spears broke a 43-yard kickoff return to set up his 28-yard touchdown run at 10:23. The touchdown run came on a quick-hit run, which was a halftime adjustment to Red Bay’s overplays.
Then Rollins recovered a Belue fumble and caught a 35-yard pass from Adcock to set up the next score, Justus Herring’s 5-yard run at 8:48. The Adcock-to-Rollins pass was another halftime adjustment; the Bobcats went play action after seeing how a safety reacted to the jet sweep in the first half.
Justin McClurg then recovered another Belue fumble at the Red Bay 26, setting up Adcock’s 1-yard run at 4:40 of the third quarter.
“We came in at halftime and made some adjustments, and I’ve got to hand it to our offensive line,” Adcock said. “We pounded and pounded and ran down some clock and scored, and then we got a few turnovers and capitalized.”
Red Bay’s answer was more Belue.
Right after Adcock’s touchdown, the Tigers marched 69 yards on eight plays, six of them Belue runs for 46 yards. He finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
Woodland answered with a drive of its own, capitalizing on a 46-yard kickoff return by Spears to reach first down at Red Bay’s 16. Red Bay shut down the Bobcats in the red zone for the second time on the night, but that left the Tigers 92 yards and 7:37 on the clock.
It was almost enough.
“That big fullback, they kept pounding him and pounding him and ran the clock out,” said Adcock, who plays cornerback on defense. “We kept tackling him and tackling him and didn’t let him bust the big play.”
Red Bay took a 7-0 lead on the game’s first drive. Michael Ramirez caught a Justin Payne pass to the sideline then sidestepped a Woodland defender en route to completing a 53-yard play.
Woodland outgained Red Bay 260 yards to 224 but came out plus-2 in turnovers, which proved to be huge. Tailback Michael Howard accounted for a team-high 87 of the Bobcats’ 206 rushing yards.
Adcock hit on four of 11 passes for 54 yard and rushed for 45 more.
“You’ve got to say something about Red Bay,” Strain said. “That No. 5 (Belue) is a handful, to start with, and we were just lucky that our kids stood up when they needed to stand up and didn’t lay down when they got knocked down.
“They got right back up and fought.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.