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FDA bows out

Last year, the Fort Dale Eagles earned a place in the state championship game with a win over Bessemer on the Rebels’ home field.

This year, Bessemer returned the favor with a 27-21 victory in the AISA state semi-finals.

“It was a hard-fought game, and they just played a little better than we did,” said head coach Speed Sampley.

Penalties have been a big concern for the Eagles all year, and when those have combined with turnovers, FDA has struggled.

The Eagles had 60 yards in penalties and three turnovers against Bessemer.

“The turnovers were definitely big, and the penalties hurt,” Sampley said. “That’s been our Achilles’ Heel all year.”

The Eagles looked methodical on their first drive of the night with big runs by Hunter Armstrong and Todd Burkett.

Later in the drive, Armstrong was flushed out of the pocket and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Luke Hutcheson with 7:09 to play in the first quarter.

On the Eagles’ next possession, a turnover reared its ugly head.

Daniel Nolan was fighting for extra yardage near his own 10-yard line when he was stripped and Bessemer took the ball to the five-yard line.

Despite a hit in the backfield for a seven-yard loss (which was practically negated by a five-yard penalty on the Eagles later in the drive), FDA couldn’t keep J.J. Bias out of the endzone as the Rebels tied the game.

The Eagles took the ball down the field, converted a fourth-down inside Bessemer’s ten-yard line, and used a short run by Daniel Nolan to break the tie and pull ahead 14-7.

After a good return, the Rebels found something they liked on the right side of Fort Dale’s defense and ran several times in that direction on the way to a touchdown.

Fort Dale again broke the tie on their first possession of the second half, when Todd Burkett raced 85 yards to the endzone on a punt return after initially muffing the catch.

From there, the game belonged to Bessemer.

With the game tied at 21 and Fort Dale deep in their own territory, Bessemer picked off a pass, which they turned into a touchdown with just under two minutes to play in the game.

A glimmer of hope remained after FDA blocked the extra point, but that slim chance was squashed when the Rebels picked off another pass with 44 seconds remaining.

“Our defense made plays all night long, but we just didn’t make a series of them,” Sampley said. “On offense, we just didn’t get the job done either. We scored 21 points, and one of those touchdowns came off a punt return. We were a little stagnant.”

Armstrong finished the game 10-16 passing for 144 yards.

Luke Hutcheson was his main target, catching six passes for 134 yards.

Nolan had 34 yards rushing, Armstrong added 33 on the ground, and Burkett had 26.

The loss also put an end to the season for the Eagles, who finish the year 9-2.

“We appreciate all that the seniors have done,” Sampley said. “We’ve had a great run, and you certainly hope for a different outcome, but it just didn’t work out that way.”