MONTEVALLO — There was an abundance of cheers, tears and celebrations at Theron Fisher Stadium, but it wasn’t from the home team.
The Talladega High School football squad made history Friday night, claiming its first-ever postseason victory by fending off a late Montevallo rally.
The Tigers won 20-18 to advance to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“I’ve said all year long that these guys wanted to make history,” Talladega head coach Shannon Felder said. “We wanted to be able to get second place (in the region) and host at home (in the first round), but we lost to Handley.
“We told the guys that we still had an opportunity to be able to host at home. We just had to go on the road and take care of business, and we’ve done that.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. We fought hard from beginning to end.
“Towards the end, I thought we celebrated too much when we scored that (last) touchdown, but I’m just so proud of these guys because they fought hard. I’ve told the guys that there were some games we’ve won that we didn’t deserve to win, but we deserve this one tonight.”
Talladega senior running back D’Corian Wilson played a role in four game-defining plays that helped make the victory possible.
He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter on a 16-yard double reverse from the double-wing formation to put Talladega up 8-6.
In the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-3 at the Talladega 7-yard line, Wilson sacked quarterback Malik Inabinette at the Talladega 18 to turn the Bulldogs away and preserve a 14-6 lead. Inabinette suffered a leg injury on the play.
The senior kept the football in Talladega’s hands on a fourth-and-7 fake punt run, picking up 28 yards. That drive was capped off by a 28-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jadis Lee to put the Tigers ahead 20-6 with 2:14 to play.
Wilson completed the quartet of key plays by covering an onside kick with 45 seconds to play that allowed Talladega quarterback Nigel Scales to take a few knees.
“The seniors in general really wanted to make history, and D’Corian is a tremendous player for us,” Felder said. “He’s had some games where he didn’t play as well as he’d like to play, but I think tonight D’Corian came out and played the way he’s capable of playing. But I’ve got to say all our guys played well tonight.”
The Bulldogs scored on their opening possession with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Inabinette to tight end J.C. Carter, but Montevallo’s vaunted offense then went off the grid until late in the fourth quarter.
Montevalle wide receiver J.J. Evans, who the Tigers held to two catches for 31 yards through 3 1/2 quarters, filled in for Inabinette at quarterback. He went 5 of 5 passing for 85 yards and touchdowns to wide receiver Jemari Harris (36 yards) and Carter (14 yards) in the final two minutes, but Evans couldn’t convert on either of the Bulldogs’ two-point conversion attempts.
Four to know
- Talladega’s first score of the game came on a safety in the second quarter when Inabinette was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. Montevallo led 6-2.
- The Bulldogs played a cleaner game than the Tigers in terms of penalties. Montevallo had four for 30 yards, plus the safety, while Talladega was flagged 13 times for 102 yards.
- Tigers junior wide receiver Michael McGregor lost a fumble on his first carry out of the double-wing, but he made up for it in other areas. He picked off Inabinette on defense and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Scales to put Talladega up 14-6 with 1:51 left in the third stanza. Another Tiger who turned the ball over on a fumble, junior wide receiver De’Javion Spratling, also picked off Inabinette.
- Talladega outgained Montevallo on the ground, 317 yards to 103.
- Wilson on what the win means to him: “It means everything. It means the world to me. It feels great to make history once again. Just like in basketball, we just did something that ain’t never been done. Nobody can take this away from us. It’s just something we’ve been dreaming of every year.” Wilson is a member of Talladega’s boys basketball team, which won the school’s first state championship of any kind in the playoff era last winter.
- Felder on hosting UMS-Wright next week: “I know what’s ahead. I thank God that I’m gonna be going to Montgomery (for the mandatory Alabama High School Athletic Association playoff coaches meeting) in the morning. I’m proud of the guys. We’re gonna celebrate and enjoy this one, then we’ll get ready for those guys.”
- Talladega (6-4) will host its first-ever home playoff game at Mary Dumas Stadium against UMS-Wright next Friday at 7 p.m.