And Jacksonville did everything to make sure it was them.
In the overtime’s first possession, Jacksonville opted not to kick the field goal on fourth down, but rather hand it to standout tailback Dominique Thomas.
He powered in, giving the Golden Eagles the decisive score and 20-13 win.
“It was just another 4A, Region 5 battle,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said.
Golden Eagles’ quarterback Jackson Bell, who along with Thomas conducted most of Jacksonville’s offense, said he was confident Thomas would score the game winner in the clutch.
“The line does a great job, especially when we get into the red zone,” he said. “They smell blood, they go after it. I had confidence in them the whole time.”
Jacksonville (5-1) and Anniston (3-3) went back and forth throughout the fourth quarter, each driving the ball downfield, but neither could find the end zone. There were no punts, and there were no points.
And leading into the fourth quarter, it was a game of missed opportunities.
Jacksonville took the lead in the first quarter after the quarterback Spencer Howard’s fumble was recovered by Lavontae Lacount on the 5-yard line. Thomas took it in on the next play.
Following the script, Anniston’s score came just before the half after Keviante Reyes intercepted Bell’s pass, returning it nearly 25 yards to midfield.
Back-up quarterback Quintavious Dobbins’ number was called for the first time and for good reason. He hit Da’Monta Miller for a 45-yard score, but the extra point was missed.
After Deion Tillett scored on a 46-yard rush on the Bulldogs’ first drive of the second half, Thomas and Bell carried Jacksonville 67 yards in 12 plays. The extra point, however, was blocked, leaving the score 13-13.
“When we get down in the second half, we want to make sure we’ve given ourselves a shot, and they did a great job doing that,” Smith said.
The Golden Eagles were unable to take advantage of a golden opportunity after Christian Lopez recovered a fumble by Howard on the 35-yard line. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the end zone in plain view, Bell was intercepted by Tillett two plays after the fumble recovery.
Anniston, with Dobbins at quarterback for the entire fourth quarter, drove down to the 24-yard line before it was unable to convert a fourth and long situation. Jacksonville did the same on its ensuing drive, handing the back over on the 32.
“One of our Achilles Heels is we’ll get down there and we’ll not block the right guy on a certain pass or something like that,” said Anniston coach Eddie Bullock. “It’s just really putting it all together. We’ll have a good run then do something to negate it. We just have to put a whole game together.”
Anniston’s ensuing drive and last attempt to win the game in regulation was ended when Jared Tippets intercepted Dobbins’ pass on the five-yard line.
“He threw a pick at the end of regulation and almost had another one, but he’s only a sophomore,” Bullock pointed out about Dobbins. “We were just trying to give him a little confidence and a chance to re-energize the offense because we weren’t getting it done.”
Bullock said he played Dobbins over Howard because the sophomore was moving the ball more effectively.
After Thomas scored in overtime, the Bulldogs received the ball on the 15-yard line, instead of the 10, after a running into the kicker call on the extra point. On fourth and goal from the 10, Dobbins was tackled at the five while scrambling from the pocket and for the win.
“We made plays when we had to and we made stops when we had to,” Smith said. “That’s all you can ask out of your team. It was a great win for us.”
Rashard Williams led the Bulldogs in rushing after missing last week’s contest against Handley. The junior recorded 182 yards on 27 rushes.
“I came back strong, better than I’ve ever felt before,” Williams said. “I came out focused, played hard, and they just got the win.”
Dobbins finished the game 2-6 with 61 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Thomas carried the ball 29 times for the Golden Eagles for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Bell finished the night 9-19 with 59 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The junior rushed 14 times for 111 yards.
Despite Jacksonville being 3-1 in the region and Anniston falling to 2-2 and still being winless at home, Bullock showed a lot of optimism after the game, saying the Bulldogs were in the same position this time last year.
“We were 3-3 and we had a situation to drop our heads and tuck our tails, but we didn’t,” Bullock explained. “We ended up going to the fourth round of the playoffs. Two losses doesn’t hurt you because our region is so tight knit. It probably puts you out of contention for first place, but you’ve still got some room down the road to make some noise.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star