Donoho’s football team appears to have come up with a new nickname for Lentz Field, its home field.
It rang out when assistant coach Stephan Graham leaned into the Falcons’ huddle following their 35-12 victory over Appalachian on Friday, and they chanted it back to him: “Bird Cage!”
With Donoho (2-4) having won two of its last three games, both at home, it appears the Falcons are protecting the Bird Cage.
“This is the first game where we really meant it,” quarterback Hall Billings said. “We’ve been trying to say it all year.”
Two weeks after dispatching Coosa Christian 56-7 for homecoming, Donoho put on its second dominant showing in a row at home, outgaining Appalachian 483 total yards to 368.
Tej Patel led the Falcons with 145 yards rushing, including touchdown runs of 4 and 3 yards.
Billings rushed for 135 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown run to give Donoho a 21-0 lead at 10:49 of the second quarter, and passed for 30 more yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Will Nelson.
Seth Ford, who split time at quarterback with Billings, hit on 5 of 9 passes for 75 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Buddy Ray.
“It takes a while to learn the offense and perfect it, but we’re getting there,” first-year Donoho coach Mark Sanders said. “We had some mistakes that shouldn’t happen tonight, but … as a whole, we played great as a team and had some guys that stepped up real big.”
Appalachian (2-5) moved the ball, with quarterback Jasper Hutchens going 13-for-27 for 237 yards. He completed touchdown passes of 5 and 78 yards to James Dean but also threw two interceptions.
It was turnovers in the first half and fourth-down stops in the second that helped Donoho keep the Eagles from turning yards into more points.
Donoho came up with two turnovers before running an offensive play. Patel intercepted a Hutchens’ pass on the game’s first possession but fumbled it back to Appalachian. Two plays later, Dalton Nelson recovered a Devin Payne fumble at Appalachian’s 48-yard line, setting up Billings’ touchdown pass to Nelson.
Appalachian answered with a brisk drive, moving from its 20 to Donoho’s 14, but Ford snagged a Hutchens pass that skipped off of Noah Harris’ hands.
“The turnovers were huge,” Sanders said. “I told the team at halftime, even though we’re up 21-6, it could have easily been a tie ballgame at halftime.
“We made a few adjustments at half, and we came out and executed, and it paid off for us.”
Donoho shut down Payne after Payne rushed for 99 yards in the first half, forcing Hutchens to take back to the air. He threw for just 84 yards in the second half, 78 on one play.
Donoho also came up with big stops in the second half.
After Noah Moss’ fake-punt run converted a fourth down to the Eagles’ 49 on their first third-quarter possession, Donoho allowed just seven yards over the next four plays, stuffing Payne for no gain on fourth-and-three.
The next possession saw Appalachian take over on downs at Donoho’s 28, after Billings suffered a 24-yard sack trying to scramble and save a fourth-down play. Donoho’s defense stopped the Eagles, with Reid Williamon stopping Hutchens’ for a 5-yard loss on fourth down to preserve Donoho’s 21-6 lead.
“They had the fake punt; we thought we had them,” Sanders said. “They just kept rolling and kept rolling and had those couple of fourth downs, and that allowed our offense to burn a little more time off the clock.”
At 1-2 in 1A, Region 4, Donoho has remaining region games at Talladega County Central next Thursday, at home against Ragland and at Wadley before ending the regular season with a non-region game at Woodland. The Falcons like must win at least two of the region games to make the playoffs.
They’ve already matched last year’s win total, and they’ve had two fun nights in the Bird Cage.
“We really believe this is our house,” Billings said. “We’ve got to protect it.”