Although Horseshoe Bend trailed for most of the game Friday night, it didn’t quite ever feel like it was out of the Class 2A Region 4 contest against Vincent.
That is, until the fourth quarter.
All night long, the Generals had done a great job of limiting Vincent to get any really big plays. But then running back LaDonte McGregor came around the right side, avoided a pair of tackles down the sideline and was off to the races. He scored an 84-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and it took the wind out of Horseshoe Bend’s sail.
The Yellow Jackets went on to capture a 43-24 victory.
“We stopped them all third quarter and we missed a couple opportunities on offense when we got down inside the red zone,” HBS coach Jeremy Phillips said. “That’s another story of the year. We stalled out. But whenever that hit, you could kinda just feel that that hurt us a lot. It hurt the momentum that we had built on the drive before.”
Horseshoe Bend (1-6, 1-3) stuck with Vincent (2-5, 2-2) early on. After allowing the Yellow Jackets to score on their first offensive drive, HBS punched right back with a score of its own.
Running the ball was the name of the game early on as Chandler McMath, Gavin Brazzell and Levi Hadway all had rushes of 10-plus yards on the drive to get Horseshoe Bend within striking distance. Then Cole Johnson completed a 29-yard pass to Holt Tidwell to set the Generals up at the 2 before Luke Jones capitalized two plays later with a 1-yard score.
But from there, the General offense didn’t look the same.
Vincent built up a 22-8 lead by halftime and on three separate occasions, Horseshoe Bend got within 30 yards or fewer of the end zone but couldn’t punch one in.
“I feel like we shot ourselves in the foot more than anything,” Phillips said. “We had an (untimely) fumble, we got a penalty going into score or we would get a bad snap and couldn’t get the handoff off. I tell the guys that you gotta be able to do the little things to be good. If you do the little things right, the big things will take care of themselves and right now as a team, we’re not doing the little things. That’s on me as a coach and we gotta get better at that.”
Horseshoe Bend did have several other spots of brightness.
Jones recovered a fumble at midfield to set up the Generals in good field position, and they scored twice more. Hadway had a 3-yard touchdown run and Tidwell punched one in the final minutes after he nearly scored on a 45-yard carry.
But throughout the night, Horseshoe Bend had a tough time stopping the running back duo of McGregor and JT Youngblood.
“They did a good job using their skills,” Phillips said. “We knew they had a couple advantages over us and they exploited those. (McGregor) was a burner; we couldn’t match his speed. Then when they had (Youngblood) in there, he’s a big ole guy. He’s every bit of 260 (pounds), he’s 6-foot-4 and he’s hard to tackle. We tried to do our best to mix it up on defense and give them a couple different looks. They just made a few more plays than we did.”
Although Horseshoe Bend isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it’s going to be an uphill battle from here. The Generals need to win out their last two region games and will need some help elsewhere. But regardless of the loss, Phillips is concentrated on the positives.
“We have a lot of young guys and we had a couple guys go out with injuries and that hurts you,” Phillips said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a learning experience. We’re still a young team and I think we can build on this.”