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Sylacauga punches playoff ticket behind sophomore offensive linemen

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Sylacauga running back Maleek Pope rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns on Friday night in a win against Beauregard.

SYLACAUGA — Maleek Pope, Maleek Pope, Maleek Pope, Maleek Pope. Sylacauga football fans probably hear his name in their sleep by this point. 

On Friday night, the Sylacauga senior carried the ball 16 times for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over Beauregard on homecoming. It was a performance that Pope makes look so effortless it’s almost- almost- boringly predictable at this point.

“It is an awesome feeling to be a part of that,” Sylacauga right tackle Landon Burns said.

Few people had a better seat than Burns did as the Pope scored three of his four touchdowns running behind the right side of the line on Friday. 

Pope got the ball on Sylacauga’s first snap and took it 78 yards for the first score of the game. He scored again with 4:11 left in the second quarter, this time from 62 yards out.

Pope scored from 46 yards out on the fourth play of the third quarter. On every single one of those plays, the senior back ran behind his sophomore linemen, Burns and right guard Christopher West. 

“They have showed week-to-week great progress,” Sylacauga coach Rob Carter said. “Right now, they are almost playing like they are juniors halfway through the season. I’m not afraid to go to their side, and you see why.”

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. Burns can still remember how tough the first few games were this season. Back then, the first-time starter struggled to block out the opposing defensive linemen the way he did on Friday night.

“Like people talking and getting in my head, saying I can’t block or nothing,” Burns said, reflecting on his first few games. “That all got in my head a little bit.”

What to know

—The win ensures Sylacauga will return to the postseason this year. The Aggies will likely need to defeat both Talladega and Holtville to secure a home playoff berth.

—Pope carried the ball 82 yards for a touchdown to give Sylacauga a 35-7 lead with 3:42 left in the third quarter. Pope has now rushed for 993 yards and 15 touchdowns in his last four games. Even more impressive, Pope’s average touchdown run this season is now more than 42 yards.

—Fellow running back Kyran Hughes scored Sylacauga’s second touchdown on a 10-yard carry in the second quarter. Then quarterback Brayson Edwards found Jakarriyian Cottingham 10 yards downfield in the end zone for the final score.

—Sylacauga kicker Camden Faircloth punted four times for an average of 45.8 yards per attempt. He also connected on all six extra points.

Who said

—Carter on playing his former school: “We are enemies when that ball is kicked off, or we’re foes. There is no doubt about it. Enjoyed coaching against them, especially the results, they did a good job. They were in there in the game for a pretty good bit of the time. … Proud of that group of kids and I still love them.”

—Carter on Pope’s continued dominance: “Amazing. We see him do it in practice. We know we get a hat on a hat, a body on a body, whatever you want to say, he is going to make something happen because he is a great talent, and colleges better come out here and find this cat.”

Next up

—Sylacauga will travel to Talladega on Friday night at 7.

Sports Writer Tyler Waldrep: 256-299-2133. On Twitter: @tylerwaldrep