Patriots end season with win over Dixie

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 28, 2001

Sports Writer

A tale of two halves.

That was the story Friday at Patriot Stadium.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Pike Liberal Arts School offense struggled in the first half, with missed opportunities in the redzone and three turnovers leading to a 6-0 halftime lead for rival Dixie Academy.

But the Patriot offense capitalized on its redzone opportunities in the second half and used a stingy defense to hold the Rebels to 25 yards rushing in the second half in a 14-12 victory over Dixie in the regular-season finale for both teams.

The win was the second in a row for the Patriots over the Rebels and the second consecutive come-from-behind triumph by PLAS, who finished the season 3-7, against its rival. The Patriots trailed 20-12 at halftime last year at Dixie, but erupted for 28 points in the second half to upset the Rebels, 40-28.

Patriot head coach Mack Williams, in his first year at PLAS, is no stranger to the rivalry. Williams was the head coach at Dixie for 12 years and knew how tight the game would be.

And the turnovers early made him a little uneasy in the first half.

"The turnovers early really worried me, but I tried to keep myself under control. They (PLAS) beat Dixie last year, and you know, came back and pretty handily whipped them. I think we took them a little lightly and Dixie came out here ready to play, hats off to them. They played hard, their kids didn’t quit. It was a great way to end the year up I can tell you."

PLAS appeared in for a long night early in the game. The Patriots fumbled the opening kickoff, which Rebel senior Justin Abercrombie recovered and, after two penalties against the Patriots, Dustin Foster turned it into a 6-0 Dixie lead on a five-yard TD run. But the Rebels missed the extra point, a miss that would play a role late in the game.

On the ensuing Patriot possession, Layton Sanders fumbled the ball rolling out on the second play of the drive and the Rebels recovered again at the PLAS 34. But after a first down run and an eight yard reception by Jonathon Clark, the Patriot defense stiffened, using a holding penalty and two incomplete passes to force a 43-yard field goal attempt by Sean Reck. The kick fell short as the PLAS defense kept the Rebels from opening up a big lead early.

The Patriot defense allowed 80 yards on the next three drives and held the Rebels to 112 total yards in the half, 223 in the game.

The Patriot offense drove inside the redzone twice in the first half, but fourth down passes on each drive fell incomplete and Sanders’ threw an interception late in the half to stall another drive inside Dixie territory.

The second half started much the same way for the PLAS offense. After the Patriot defense forced a three-and-out to open the half, Sanders lead the Patriots to the Dixie 20 for the third time on the night. But the offense sputtered again, gaining negative yardage on the next four plays and turning the ball over on downs.

But senior Bill Hughes would spark the Patriots on on its ensuing possession. Hughes returned a Dixie punt 20 yards to the Dixie 40 and one play later, raced to the outside and down the sidelines, 28 yards to tie the game. But PLAS missed the extra point, keeping the game tied with 3:01 remaining in the third quarter.

The game remained tied until Sanders’ seven-yard touchdown scamper capped a seven-play, 58-yard drive with 1:12 left in the game. Sanders connected with Hughes for the two-point conversion and a 14-6 advantage. Sanders completed three-of-four passes during the drive for 24 yards and 12-of-26 passes for 178 yards for the game. Senior Brent Hill caught six passes for 115 yards.

"We capitalized on opportunities to score in the second half that we missed in the first half," Williams said. "That’s been our achilles heel this year. We were seven points away from being in the Class 3-A playoffs. We just had trouble sticking it in when we got down there this year. That’s what happened in the first half, but then we realized those kids from Dixie played both ways, which a lot of our kids do, but I think that wore them down in the fourth quarter."

Williams said Hill played a huge role in the win.

"Big catches, he’s done it all year. Druid(Conrad) made some big plays. I’m just proud of all of them, it took a team effort to win it. Words can’t describe how happy I am for them."

Dixie fought back behind Reck in the final minute. Reck returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Rebel 45 and quarterback Zak Knight found Reck along the sidelines for 24 yards and a first down on the first play from scrimmage. One play later, Knight hooked up with a wide-open Reck again, behind the Patriot defense for a touchdown with 41 seconds left to cut the deficit to 14-12. But Knight’s two-point conversion pass was knocked down by a host of Patriot defenders and PLAS recovered the onside kick and ran the clock to preserve the win.

Williams said the win was a big one for him, but he was thrilled for the seniors.

"It is a big win and that’s what we kept saying towards the end, ‘look guys, you need to get something out of it because we have worked real hard.’ And that’s all I know in the program is to put the effort in, put the time in and we did. We came out here, practiced hard every day and went through some struggles with a new program. I told them at the pep rally, ‘I appreciate you accepting me, accepting coach Mack.’