SYLACAUGA -- Sylacauga High School’s football team knocked off Class 5A, Region 5 foe Center Point 17-6 at Legion Stadium on Friday night.
The Aggies opened the second half with three consecutive scoring possessions to soar past the No. 5-ranked Eagles. Sylacauga kicker Cole Porch booted a 22-yard field goal to erase the goose egg from the scoreboard, then senior running back Jordan Ridgeway broke free for the go-ahead score on a 36-yard run with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter.
“I’m just so proud of our kids,” Sylacauga head coach Matt Griffith said. “There have been tons of distractions starting about a couple weeks ago and just a lot of negativity when they’re doing everything right and they’re doing everything positive.
“I’ll tell you, something in our culture. There’s so much positive in Sylacauga. There’s so much positive in our school footballwise and athleticswise, and our kids just went out and proved it.
“They belong on that state level. They belong exactly where we are right now, at 7-1 having a huge win and knocking off the No. 5 team in the state. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of kids.”
Sylacauga sophomore running back Maleek Pope capped the Aggies’ scoring with a 53-yard run off right tackle that he cut back to midfield near the Center Point 25-yard line.
Pope finished his night with 21 carries for 180 yards, while Ridgeway added 119 yards on 21 carries. Ridgeway also caught two passes for 25 yards and forced a fumble while sacking Eagles quarterback JD Davis on Center Point’s final offensive play.
“We watched enough film knowing that they are so good up front on the defensive front,” Griffith said. “Their defensive front may be the best in 5A, but they’re going both ways, which is very tough in our league.
“We knew what we had to do was survive the 30, 35, 36 plays to get them tired, and then we were going to come after them … Our kids never panicked or never did anything like that. They just did everything we asked them to do. I’m proud of them.”
Center Point’s vaunted offense accounted for none of the Eagles’ points as the Aggies played a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ style of defense that served to wear down their opponents. The Eagles had just three plays of 20-plus yards but still finished with 375 yards of total offense.
“There’s no doubt our plan was to make them keep snapping the football,” Grifith said. “Don’t give them those big breakaway plays because that’s what they do. We felt that if we could make them keep snapping the ball, that we could keep them out of the end zone because they were going to make mistakes.
“No doubt, there was a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ philosophy all week. Keep tackling in space is what we kept telling our kids.”
Four to know
- Center Point’s lone score came off a fumble by the Aggies on their opening possession. Eagles linebacker Noah Steen scooped up the ball and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
- The Aggies’ defense may have bent, but it also robbed the Eagles on five occasions. Sylacauga junior safety Luke Vincent, senior defensive back Keundre Pearson and junior linebacker Tory Harris each picked off Davis, while senior defensive linemen LaJordan Pearson and Taylor Strickland each recovered a fumble.
- Porch had a strong but not perfect performance for the Aggies on special teams. The senior sent three of his four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, made both of his extra-point attempts and garnered significant hang time on his punts, with his longest going for 49 yards. His lone miscues were a 28-yard field goal attempt late that missed just to the right and a 16-yard punt that got too much leg under it with not enough depth.
- The Eagles were early birds on offense, but not in a good way. Of Center Point’s 15 penalties, eight were for false starts or illegal procedure.
- Griffith on how the victory impacts the region standings: “Winning this football game -- knocking off a team that is 4-0 in the region -- doing that lets our kids know that they’re in the hunt for the region title. They’re not just in the hunt to make the playoffs. They’re in a hunt to win the region now. They have a huge opportunity ... We’re going to let the kids enjoy it, but we’ll go right back to work.”
- Griffith on the road ahead: “Here’s the thing. You can’t let this win not get you ready for the next two weeks. We said coming into this game that we had three must-win region games right here in a row. We can enjoy this, but we’ve got to come back ready. We’ve got (Central Clay County) at Clay and we’ve got Munford at home. Those are two all-too-important region games.”
- Center Point head coach George Bates on the loss: “Hat’s off to Sylacauga. They did what they came here to do, and it seemed as if they wanted it more, especially in the second half. There was a lot of self-inflicted wounds with drive-stallers and penalties where, all of a sudden, it’s first-and-20. We had four or five of those in the first half … At this point, we control our own destiny. If we win the next two games, we’re the region champs. We lose one, and we could be either first, second or third with a tiebreaker.”
- Sylacauga (7-1, 4-1) will travel to Lineville to face Central Clay County (5-2, 4-1) next Friday at 7 p.m.
- Center Point (6-2, 4-1) will go to Moody (3-4, 2-3) for a region battle against the Blue Devils next Friday at 7 p.m.