JACKSONVILLE — The word "never" is defined as “at no time in the past; on no occasions; not ever.” For Jacksonville, “never” has been associated with never having advanced past the second round of the AHSAA football playoffs. Then the calendars flipped to 2019, and the Golden Eagles erased that term from their dictionaries.
The rush of momentum started with Jacksonville’s first second-round victory, then it continued with a quarterfinal win the following week. It peaked Friday when the Golden Eagles knocked off Anniston 34-13 to clinch its first berth in the state finals.
“I think this is huge for the community and everyone involved,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said. “This year’s team has taken it to another level. Then, I think back to all the guys who have been here over the eight years I’ve been here, and even years past, who have helped laid the foundation for this program to get it where it is today.”
After Jacksonville went up 21-6 midway through the second quarter, Anniston attempted to cut its first-half deficit in half by scoring a late touchdown, but the Bulldogs running back A.J. Brown was stopped short of the goal line as the second-quarter clock expired. This drive included a fourth-down conversion for Anniston as well as extraordinary effort by Tony Hunley, who hauled in a Daveon Dukes pass and tried to reach into the end zone while laying on top of a defender. Hunley was stopped at the 2-yard line, setting up Jacksonville's stop of Brown.
What to know
—Both team’s top running backs surpassed the 200-rushing yard mark and finished with multiple touchdowns. Brown carried the ball 31 times for 235 yards and two touchdowns, while Jacksonville's Ron Wiggins had 29 carries for 206 yards and four touchdowns.
—Wiggins passed former Alexandria running back Mac Campbell on the Calhoun County single-season rushing list. Wiggins now has 2,656 rushing yards this season. According to the AHSAA all-time list, Campbell had 2,596 yards in 1997.
—Taj Morris had the lone Jacksonville touchdown that Wiggins didn't score. Morris rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter.
—Jacksonville punter Jim Ogle, who pinned four of six punts inside the 20-yard line, on his performance: “I had to work all week on getting the ball off quicker, because (Anniston) rushes a lot. I think I focused a lot this week on getting my head down on the ball and just driving through it.”
—Jacksonville linebacker Jaylon Prater, who recovered an Anniston fumble in the second quarter to set up a Wiggins’ touchdown moments later: “Everything was such a rush. I got off the line real fast and just saw no one trying to block me, so I was able to wrap up (Dukes) and strip the ball.”
—Smith on his team: “Most of these kids are four-year guys. It’s gotten to where every time we have a senior class, most of them have played for four years. We’ve got a very healthy program, and the kids this year have just bought in.”
—Jacksonville (12-2) will travel to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium to play UMS-Wright (13-0). The Bulldogs, who have won 32 straight games, have captured the last two Class 4A state titles. The two teams will play Friday at 11 a.m.