Ariton proves too much for Zion Chapel

Published 11:07 pm Friday, October 30, 2015

By Michael Shipma

The Messenger

Ariton’s passing attack proved to be too much for Zion Chapel High School to handle, as the Rebels fell at home 35-17 on Friday.

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The Rebels (2-8, 2-5 2A Region 3) had no answer for junior quarterback Preston Herring on a cold Friday night, as the Purple Cats (5-5, 3-4 2A Region 2) picked up their fourth straight victory.

“They wanted to get us out in space,” head coach Bradley Bowers said after the game. “We had some trouble covering some of their tall receivers out in space, and from that they were able to take a lead. After that, it was just them playing keep away.”

Ariton drew first blood on the Rebels’ when senior running back Aljanine Richmond found a hole and ran the ball in from 20 yards out, making the score 7-0 with 1:20 left in the opening quarter. The score capped off a 42-yard drive that saw Herring and Richmond methodically moving the ball downfield against Zion Chapel.

Richmond wasted no time in extending his team’s lead, finding senior wide receiver Andrew Goodson for a 36-yard touchdown. The score came at the 7:45 mark in the second quarter, as the visitors looked to run away with the game early.

Senior running back Daniel Peoples and the Rebels stuck to their characteristic run-heavy offensive scheme, and were able to find some success. Peoples got Zion Chapel on the board on its ensuing drive, scoring on a six yard TD run. The touchdown capped off an impressive, 70-yard drive for the Rebels, as they started to find their rhythm against a tough Purple Cats defensive line. Peoples finished off an impressive final outing for the Rebels with 187 yards rushing to go along with a pair of touchdowns on 36 carries.

“(Peoples) is a special kid,” said Bowers. “Tonight was a testament of how hard he works and strives to be the best he can be.”

Herring snuffed out any hopes for a comeback, however, as he led Ariton to back-to-back scoring drives.

The first score came via a one yard pitch-and-catch from Herring to senior tight end Thomas Casey, and with only four seconds remaining in the first half, sophomore kicker Huberto Hernandez’s extra point made the score 21-7 going into the locker room.

The Purple Cats were the first to have possession in the second half, and Herring continued his big night with a screen pass to Richmond, who then took the ball 26 yards for a touchdown.

Peoples once again put Zion Chapel back in the game, finding the end zone on the Rebels’ ensuing drive to make the score 27-14 with 10:39 left in the third quarter.

Senior quarterback/defensive back Justin Mobley completed the momentum shift, as he recovered an Ariton fumble with 5:38 left in the third. The fumble gave the Rebels excellent field position at the Purple Cats’ 40 yard line, and sophomore kicker Dawson Hamlin capped off a short drive for Zion Chapel with a 37-yard field goal, making the score 27-17 in favor of the Purple Cats.

Despite the narrowed lead, Ariton continued to keep the home team at arm’s length, thanks to senior running back Tyler Ezzel, who found the end zone on a 36 yard run. The Purple Cats’ ensuing two-point attempt was good, widening the lead to 35-17 with 8:51 left to play.

Zion Chapel tried to bounce back on its next drive, attempting consecutive fake punts on a pair of fourth and long situations.

The Rebels converted the first, but the second was just shy of the first down marker, and the Purple Cats took over at their own 30 yard line with just under five minutes left in the game. Ariton then used good clock management to run down the time, and were able to hold off Zion Chapel on its senior night.

The Rebels finished up their season at home, failing to qualify for the 2A playoffs.

“This is unlike any place I’ve been,” said Bowers.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 10-0 or 0-10, there’s going to be people in the bleachers. I can’t tell you how good of people and football players these kids are.”