Eagles push Pike, fall 20-17

Published 11:26 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

Big time players make big time plays.

With the game on the line, Pike Liberal Arts’ Jerel Foster put his team on his back to top the Fort Dale Eagles 20-17 in the AISA AAA state title game at Movie Gallery Stadium in Troy.

Fort Dale led 17-14 with 6:11 left in the game, but Pike embarked on a 10-play, 90-yard drive and scored the winning touchdown with 1:29 on the clock.

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“It’s obviously not the way I’d want to end it, but it only ends good for one team,” said head coach James “Speed” Sampley. “We just couldn’t tackle on that last drive. There wasn’t any doubt about who was going to touch it.”

Fort Dale had a chance to drive down for a winning touchdown, but that effort stalled around midfield.

It’s only fitting that the game wasn’t decided until the very end, given how evenly matched the two teams were.

Fort Dale ended the night with 45 plays for 260 yards, while Pike had 48 plays for 267 yards.

Foster accounted for 228 of those 267 yards, and 84 yards came on the game-winning drive.

Fort Dale jumped out to an early 6-0 lead by taking to the air.

Quarterback Dustin Till lofted a pass to Paul Whigham, who out-jumped two Pike defenders to haul in the 30-yard touchdown pass.

Pike responded with a seven-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard run by Foster to claim a 7-6 lead.

Fort Dale’s next possession proved to be one of the turning points of the game.

The Eagles were forced to punt, but the snap went over the head of Eli Blackmon.

Just when it seemed that Blackmon had averted disaster by scrambling and getting away a rugby-style kick, something inexplicable happened.

An Eagle player jumped up and tapped the ball on a bounce to keep it from heading back toward Fort Dale territory, but FDA apparently failed to down the ball.

Pike’s Douglas Hawkins picked up the live ball and raced 55 yards to the endzone for a touchdown.

“I don’t even know what happened on that punt,” Sampley said. “That turned out to be the biggest play of the game. I say it was roughing the punter, and that’s not just sour grapes, because he got run into.”

“Regardless, we should have had the sense to down the ball,” he continued.

Down 14-6, it could have been a crushing blow for the Eagles, but they didn’t roll over.

With a couple of key third-down runs from Till and a fourth down conversion from Stead, the Eagles managed to get within field goal range and Sean McKeague booted a 25-yarder with 1:25 left before halftime.

It seemed that the third quarter would be a different story after the Eagles capitalized on a missed Pike field goal.

Starting at their own 20, Fort Dale ripped off chunks of yardage, including runs of 15 from Whigham, 20 from Daniel Nolan and 33 from Stead.

The drive stalled inside the 10-yard line, but Stead blasted it in from two yards out on fourth down for the touchdown.

A Whigham run added the two-point conversion to make it 17-14 Fort Dale, where it stood until late in the fourth quarter.

“Both of these teams played hard and there was no mess, which is the way it should be,” Sampley said. “I’m proud of our boys and what they’ve accomplished this year.”

Fort Dale ended the night with 230 yards rushing, led by 93 from Stead.

Till added 60 for the Eagles, and Nolan had 49.

Daniel Lowe was the top tackler for the Eagle defense with 10 tackles, but Whigham and Nolan were close behind with nine and eight tackles, respectively.

Nolan also had an interception.

The loss gives the Eagles a 10-3 record for the 2008 season, with two of those losses coming to Pike and the other coming at the hands of AA champion Edgewood.

“We went as far as we could,” said Stead, a senior. “We played our hearts out, and that’s all we can do. I’m going to miss this team.”