Special teams lift Pike County to 36-21 win
With Gordo and Aliceville looking on from the stands, and just yards from the Winfield City Cemetery, the Pike County Bulldogs laid to rest another team's title hopes by topping Winfield 36-21 in the semifinals of the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoffs.
With the win, Pike County (13-1) advances to the Class 3A title game at Birmingham's Legion Field. It's the third such trip for the Bulldogs in four years. Pike County claimed the state title in 2003 and 2005.
The Bulldogs will look to stake claim to back-to-back titles for the first time since they pulled off the feat in 1988 and 1989, when they square off with undefeated Clay County (14-0) on Friday at 3 p.m.
“They are just a good team,” Winfield head coach Danny Adams said. “They are very athletic. I'm not worried about the Pirates. We'll be OK. Worry about those other 60 teams that didn't make it here tonight to get this whipping.”
After falling behind early thanks to Pirates' scoring drives on two of their first three possessions, the Bulldogs finally found their edge, and it came on special teams.
Trailing 15-8 with 3:43 remaining in the first half, Pike County senior James Jackson fielded a Mark Thompson kick and returned it 83 yards for a score. A failed two-point conversion left the Bulldogs trailing 15-14 heading into the
intermission, but Jackson's return had shifted momentum to the Bulldogs, who had been out gained 222 yards to 112 yards in the first half.
“That was a big-time play,” junior Darrell Reynolds said of Jackson's return.
“Big-time players make big-time plays, and he's a big-time player.”
Reynolds made a big-time play of his own just two minutes into the second half when the junior fielded a punt at his own 40-yard line, started left, then reversed his field and raced 60-yards for the go-ahead score.
Jackson barreled his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion to give Pike County a 22-15 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“We were able to make some big plays on special teams tonight,” Pike County head coach Wayne Grant said. “James' kickoff return and Darrell's punt return were both big plays.
“I thought our speed might give us an advantage tonight, and that proved true. Winfield has a good football team. They gave us all we wanted.”
With momentum firmly on their side, the Bulldogs extended their lead to two touchdowns when senior quarterback Tobias Lee found fellow senior Rodderick Griffin streaking across the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown.
The touchdown strike was the second of the game for Lee, who connected with senior Kevin Marshall for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the game's opening quarter.
Reynolds booted the extra point to give Pike County a 29-15 lead with 6:08 remaining in the game.
The Pirates (12-2) added their final score of the night on a 47-yard pass from junior Zack Townley to senior Ty Seals.
A failed extra-point attempt left Winfield trailing the Bulldogs 29-21.
Pike County sealed the win on the very next possession when Reynolds rushed for a 9-yard score, then added the extra point with 3:31 showing on the game clock to give the Bulldogs the 36-21 win.