Spanish Fort ends Wildcats season at 11-2Published 12:53pm Monday, November 26, 2012
By Ben Thomas | AL.com
SPANISH FORT, Alabama – Benjamin Russell coach Danny Horn thought he had Spanish Fort just where he wanted.
Clinging to a four-point lead with 9:24 left in the game, the fourth-ranked Toros faced a third-and-9 from their five-yard line.
Spanish Fort senior quarterback Joel Poe calmly hit Devonte Patrick on a 16-yard pass across the middle, keying a 96-yard drive that clinched the Toros’ 28-17 victory over the eighth-ranked Wildcats at Toro Stadium.
Spanish Fort (12-1) moves on to the Class 5A semifinals for the second time in three years. The Toros will host 5A Region 1 rival St. Paul’s here next week. Benjamin Russell finished Horn’s fourth season at 11-2.
“We couldn’t get them off the field on third down,” Horn said. “That was the difference. The biggest play of the game was probably when we had them in third-and-long down there at the 5 and they hit us across the middle. Credit to them. They made the plays when they had to. We didn’t, and they are advancing.”
Spanish Fort opened a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter and looked to be on cruise control. Poe connected with Kristian Cotton on a 13-yard TD pass and Sam Harris on a 42-yard strike. Sammy Tolbert added a 39-yard touchdown run. Benjamin Russell countered with Bryant Horn’s 10-yard TD pass to LaBrenikin Johnson.
The Wildcats cut the lead to 21-14 late in the second quarter when Johnson barely inched over the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The scored stayed that way at the half.
“They are a good team,” Spanish Fort coach Mark Freeman said. “We could not put them away. At the half, we knew they had hung around. We had to come out rejuvenated and play ball. When you get to this point, every team is good.”
Near the end of a scoreless third quarter, Benjamin Russell’s Tabias Russell picked off a Poe pass and ran it back to the Toros’ 42. Aided by a pair of personal foul penalties, the Wildcats moved to the 12 before eventually settling for Collin Sharpe’s 29-yard field goal with 10:27 left in the game.
All the momentum seemed to be on Benjamin Russell’s side, especially after Johnny Cook muffed the ensuing kickoff and was tackled at his 4.
“We went into the fourth quarter with a chance to win, and that is what we wanted,” Horn said. “It is a 21-17 game, and they are inside their own 5. If we get a stop there, we likely have good field position and who knows what happens. Four or five plays make a difference in every game.”
After a 1-yard run and an incompletion, Poe hit Patrick for the big first down – the first of five converted third downs on the drive.
“It was a great play call,” Poe said. “We practiced it all week. We thought we had a good idea what defense they would be in. Devonte ran a good route and was wide open. I got some pressure but got it off. That was big.”
After Poe and Patrick connected again for three yards, the Toros used 12 consecutive run plays to move the ball to a third-and-goal at the Benjamin Russell 5. At one point, backup quarterback Tyler Johnston ran it four straight times for 29 yards from the Wildcat formation with Poe lined up at receiver.
“We feel good with the ball in Tyler’s hands,” Freeman said. “He runs hard. At the worst, he will find a way to get two yards. We put body on body pretty well there and picked up some good yardage.”
On third down, the Toros went back to the air. Poe hit Harris on a 5-yard TD pass. Alexander Theodore kicked the lead to 28-17 with just 2:33 left. Harris finished with seven catches for 135 yards.
“We felt confident before that drive,” Poe said. “We had to have a drive like that against Muscle Shoals (in the Champions Challenge) and got it. We had to drive at the end to beat Daphne. So we’ve been there before. We knew we could do it.”
The Wildcats had two more possessions but couldn’t get into the end zone.
Bryant Horn went 14-of-24 for 155 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a 6-yard pass from Johnson to set up the Wildcats’ second touchdown.
Spanish Fort held Benjamin Russell to just 33 yards rushing on 21 carries, including 2 yards on nine attempts in the second half. The Toros outgained the Wildcats 407-194 and had 21 first downs to Benjamin Russell’s 11.
“I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken here and the season we had,” said Horn, who finished his fourth year at the school. “We played hard all year. We lost two games to two good teams. We were undefeated at home. We showed class and character. We’ll just come back next week and start getting ready for next year.”