Dawgs advance to semifinals
Published 11:22 pm Friday, November 22, 2013
By Justin Ferguson
For the Opelika-Auburn News
LOACHAPOKA – As raindrops and teardrops fell together at the end of Loachapoka’s Class 1A quarterfinal loss to defending state champion Brantley, Indians head coach Jerome Tate had three simple sentences for his team.
“Don’t leave here hanging your heads,” he said. “No one expected you all to get this far. In my eyes, you all are champions.”
Tate’s No. 9 Loachapoka team lost to No. 4 Brantley, 36-19, Friday night, giving the Indians a final record of 10-3 on the season.
The Indians missed several opportunities inside the red zone, and the visiting Bulldogs (11-2) took advantage with 401 rushing yards and six touchdowns to move one step closer to another championship.
Brantley will play at undefeated, top-ranked Maplesville next Friday night in the semifinals.
“I’m definitely not pleased with the outcome, but I’m pleased with the way our guys fought to the very end,” Tate said. “But what can I say? The best team won the ballgame tonight.”
Brantley senior running back Andrew Parker led the way for the Bulldogs with 147 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Fellow running back Brandon Walker added 153 yards and a touchdown for Brantley.
Loachapoka quarterback Courtland Cox threw for 151 yards and one touchdown, but the junior only completed 7-of-23 passes. The Indians backfield tandem of Ryheem Sistrunk and Jaquavious Jackson compiled 232 rushing yards in the defeat.
The Indians started the game on the right foot, forcing Brantley to turn the ball over on downs on its first possession. Cox and the Loachapoka offense wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard as the quarterback found Brandon Ferrell on a deep ball for a 70-yard score.
Brantley responded with a quick two-play drive that ended with a 44-yard rushing touchdown from Walker. After forcing Loachapoka to turn the ball over on downs inside, the Bulldogs dialed up another quick score – a 51-yard run by Parker.
Inconsistency in the passing game forced Loachapoka to punt on its next two possessions, and the Indians could not take advantage of a Parker fumble midway through the quarter.
Parker added another touchdown run before Loachapoka turned the ball over on downs to end the first half. The Indians marched to the Bulldogs’ 14 before three straight incompletions ended the drive.
“We just didn’t capitalize on those big possessions tonight, and you can’t do that in these games,” Tate said. “Hats off to Brantley – they made stops when they needed to. That’s the mark of a championship ballclub.”
Brantley took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring on a pair of quick, six-play drives.
But the Indians did not go away quietly. A fake punt to end the third quarter resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cox to a leaping Demarius Pitts in the back of the end zone.
After Brantley added its sixth-and-final rushing touchdown of the night, Jackson and Sistrunk combined for 80 yards on just two carries to give the Indians a late consolation touchdown.
As his Indians left the field for the final time, Tate pointed to the leadership of what he called a special group of seniors.
“Those guys mean so much to us,” Tate said. “They weren’t headaches for me. They worked extremely hard, and they’re showing the young guys how to handle themselves right now.”