JACKSONVILLE — Something had to give.
Between two Calhoun County rivals looking for history. Between a new power and an old one in the midst of a return to form. Between a high-powered offense and a staunch defense.
Anniston saw Jacksonville get the better end of the breaks in a Friday night battle, with the Bulldogs falling 34-13 to the Golden Eagles and ending their season in the Class 4A state semifinals. Jacksonville advanced to the state championship game.
“We fought all year. We were here for a reason, because we deserved to be here,” Anniston head coach Rico White said. “We had a great season, and it’s something to build off of.”
Jacksonville got the opportune plays, but Anniston never went away.
After an Anniston fumble gave Jacksonville a short field and a 21-6 lead in the first half, a Bulldog drive just before the half could have shifted momentum. A completion to the one, followed by a hurried spike, gave Anniston one second and one play to go one yard.
Anniston’s A.J. Brown fought his way forward, but couldn’t break the plane for a score.
“It was major,” White said of the Jacksonville goal-line stand. “It would have been a momentum switch. We should have scored. We didn’t do it.”
After a failed fake punt in an attempt to spark momentum toward the Bulldogs in the third, Anniston saw their cross-county rivals go up 27-6, but Brown was back again.
A 38-yard score on the following drive got Anniston within range of a comeback at 27-13 midway through the third.
Facing off against a Mr. Football candidate across the way in Jacksonville’s Ron Wiggins, Brown more than held his own. Brown rushed for 235 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, limping off the field after his last following a night, and season, of leading the Anniston offense.
Wiggins rushed for 206 and four touchdowns on 29 carries, including the backbreaker to put Jacksonville up 34-13 with 3:25 to go.
What to know
—Despite Wiggins’ gaudy statline, Anniston bottled the bruising and blazing runner up for much of the first half. Before the senior finally burst through for a 58-yard touchdown for his first score, the Bulldogs held Wiggins to 45 yards on his first 10 carries.
—Anniston reached the semifinals in just the second season under White. The Bulldogs finished 3-7 in 2017 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs last season with a 6-5 record.
—The Bulldogs’ run to the semifinal round of the playoffs was their first since 2011. Anniston was part of a record five Calhoun County teams that reached the semifinal round this year, with Jacksonville, Wellborn, Piedmont and Oxford.
—White on Wiggins: “I think we contained him pretty good, and gave ourselves a chance.”
—Jacksonville head coach Clint Smith the first-half stand: “They could have scored right there and cut it to a one-score game. That was a huge stop by our defense.”
—Jacksonville (12-2) advances to the championship game in Class 4A, where they’ll face UMS Wright, the two-time defending champions. The Bulldogs finish at 9-5.