Ranburne hopes to secure a playoff spot

Ranburne’s Bulldogs had the most bite on Friday of last week, downing Gaston 39-12 on the road. The non-region victory improved the Bulldogs to 3-2 overall. Ranburne returns to Class 2A, Region 5 play Friday at Reeltown (2-3). Both teams are 2-1 in Region 5 and the winner will have taken a big step toward securing a playoff berth.

“They’re very big, very physical,” Ranburne coach Stephen Bailey said of the Rebels. “They’re going to try to run the ball right at you. They play two tights sometimes. They can do wishbone. They can do power ‘I’. … We’ve been trying to stress to our kids that we’re going to have to be just as physical as they are for just as long as they are to have a chance.”

Against Gaston, a 52-yard punt by Trace McMahan set up the first points of the contest. McMahan’s punt came on the first possession of the game and the rugby-style boot rolled dead at the Gaston 5-yard line. Gaston’s first snap went past the quarterback to the back of the end zone. A Gaston player managed to pick up the ball but was forced out of the end zone for a safety with 9:58 left in the opening quarter.

 “I thought Trace McMahan punted the ball very well,” Bailey said of McMahan, who had a 38-yard punt later in the game. “I’ve been pleased with him getting better there.”

Ranburne then got the better of an exchange of punts, taking over at the Ranburne 41 after Gaston punted for just 14 yards. Seven plays later, the Bulldogs were facing a second-and-goal at the Gaston 11. Quarterback Josh Ralston rolled left and found fullback Aaron Benefield coming out of the backfield. Benefield made a one-handed grab of Ralston’s pass and scored easily. Brock Young’s kick made it 9-0 with 3:53 still to play in the first quarter. Benefield had runs of 12 and 17 yards along the way.

 Another short punt, this one 19 yards, set the stage for Ranburne’s second touchdown. Sam Calvert capped the five-play drive with a 1-yard scoring run with 3:39 left in the half. His 18-yard run on the previous snap got the ball close. On the extra point attempt, holder Tye Bailey passed to Hayden Simmons for the two-point conversion and a 17-0 lead.

Gaston scored its initial touchdown with 1:02 remaining in the first half but the conversion failed.

Ralston 37-yard kickoff return got Ranburne great field position at the Gaston 48. Benefield took a screen pass from Ralston for a 16-yard gain to the 34. On third down, the left-handed Ralston rolled to his right and spotted Bradley Martin alone and 15 yards farther downfield than any defender. Martin gathered in Ralston’s pass and scored with 8.8 seconds left in the half. Young’s kick set the halftime score at 24-6.         

Gaston scored again on the initial possession of the second half then regained possession of the ball at the Ranburne 44 on an interception. After a short gain on a run, Benefield broke through the line for a quarterback sack and an incomplete passed forced Gaston to punt. Ranburne lost the ball again on a missed handoff at the Ranburne 28. Gaston’s first play was a pass that Landon Woodard intercepted at the Ranburne 18.

The third quarter ended with Ranburne ahead 24-12 but the Bulldogs were knocking on the door. With 10:10 to play, Woodard scored on a 17-yard run around left end. Benefield then snapped the ball to Woodard who ran for a two-point conversion and a 32-12 lead. Calvert’s 13-yard run with 7:42 to go accounted for Ranburne’s final touchdown and Young added his third consecutive extra point boot to make the final 39-12.

Benefield ran 19 times for 130 yards and added 40 receiving yards on three catches. Calvert rushed for 53 yards on 10 tries and caught a 12-yard pass. Woodard finished with nine carries for 48 yards and Damon Calhoun gained 17 yards on three tries.                 

Ralston was 5-for-13 passing for 86 yards. Martin’s lone catch was the 34-yard bomb.

Hunter Hollis recorded six tackles to pace the defense. Spencer Jordan and Sean Pollard each made five tackles. Benefield and Jake Burson had four stops apiece. Burson also caused and recovered a fumble and broke up a pass. Calvert and Young each had three tackles. Young also blocked two punts.

 “We really came out and gave great effort and tried to execute what we were going to do,” Bailey said.