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Victory returns for Wildcats

Ring the bell

POSTED: August 16, 2014 10:00 a.m.
Ivey Wynn/Barrow County News

Apalachee quarterback Bryan Wilson eludes Monroe’s Connor Kozicki during the first half of Friday’s scrimmage. Wilson ran for four yards and threw for 46 with one score.

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The Wildcat faithful had been waiting more than a year to celebrate the way they did Friday night at R. Harold Harrison Stadium, but the Apalachee High School football team made it all worth their while with a 17-10 scrimmage win over Monroe Area High School.

Friday’s result may have come during a preseason scrimmage, but that official designation and unofficial nature of the game did nothing to cool the spirits of everyone involved with Apalachee’s football program.

“Whether it’s a scrimmage or a real game or whether it’s a 7-on-7 or a lineman challenge or in the weight room or whatever, the goal is to win and so we try to compete to win,” Apalachee varsity football head coach Shane Davis said after Friday’s victory. 

“I thought our student section was huge tonight for a scrimmage. Probably one of the biggest we’ve had for a scrimmage ever, so I really appreciate those guys coming out tonight. I hope they’ll follow us over to Woodland in a couple weeks.”

After last season’s disappointing end, with a winless 0-10 final mark, the final score was more than enough to set off considerable cheering from that student section. 

Apalachee got things started early with a grinding 15-play touchdown drive that chewed up more than half of the first quarter’s allotment of clock, culminating in a Kyle Jackson 5-yard score. 

In regards to the quarterback battle going on Friday night, Alantae Billings took the majority of the first drive with Bryan Wilson filling in when he was needed. Billings even rushed for Apalachee’s first down of the night on an 8-yard carry, but the majority of the ground game was from junior Dalton Bales.

“Right now, he’s the most consistent, positive thing we have on our team. He’s going to be huge,” Davis predicted of the new starting rusher.

Bales, who accounted for 101 yards rushing, cranked out 29 yards on that first drive, including an 11-yard dash that put the Cats in field goal territory. 

Apalachee had to fight through third down three times on the scoring drive, with the first coming on a 3rd-and-12 play set up by a Monroe Area sack. With the pocket once again collapsing around Billings, as Monroe pressured the quarterback most of the first half, he connected with his basketball teammate Kent Knowles for a crucial 13-yard gain and an extra set of downs. 

The wheels looked to fall off about midfield for the ‘Canes as a block in the back penalty and a broken up play put the Hurricanes to 3rd-and-21 from their own 43-yard line on their first drive. 

What looked like an ill-advised short route to King turned into a huge gain, though, as he crossed the field and at one point used the official as a blocker in order to gain the first down and then some on a 37-yard blast. 

“I thought we did a good job last week other than the one big play they had,” Davis reminisced. “Then we didn’t do as good a job this week. We gave up two big third down plays. 

“One of them was a kid coming up trying to make a play. Those kinds of things are going to happen, and that’s a teaching moment.”

King was eventually brought down by Knowles, but the Hurricanes were in the red zone and would eventually toss it to CJ Winding for the score from six yards out. 

Apalachee’s maturity showed through more after the Monroe score than at any other point in the night. The 2013 team frequently let opportunities slip away, but this much-improved 2014 squad kept their nose on the grindstone as Wilson took over for much of the second drive as expected. 

Bales once again set the pace for the Wildcats as he carried the ball six times in 13 plays. 

Bales led the way on the ground, but it was Hunter Wagler who would ultimately pull in the touchdown catch, thrown by Wilson, in what looked like a near interception with a Monroe defender just out in front of him.

After Dylan Staples’ second PAT followed the first through the uprights, Apalachee was up 14-7 and for good.

If the 2014 Wildcats looked like a whole new team, so did the 2014 Monroe Purple Hurricanes. The grand difference, though, is that this new Apalachee team went in the right direction while Monroe has probably taken a few steps back.

An over-reliance on screen passes at midfield let the Wildcat defense key in on what Monroe wanted to do. One of those passes, thrown low over the line, was tipped up by Christian Dufrene and caught by Jackson for a momentum-shifting interception.

Bales got a bit of a break on the ensuing drive as the Wildcats let Billings get comfortable at quarterback both throwing and running the ball. 

In what was undoubtedly Apalachee’s play of the game, Billings stood in the pocket and took a wallop from a charging Monroe linebacker. Just before the hit, though, Billings let the ball sail where it found Knowles waiting right in his spot 23 yards down field. 

Billings would get 22 yards on the ground himself to help set up Staples for a 25-yard field goal attempt on 4th-and-6. Apalachee came out of the huddle looking like they wanted to go for it, prompting Monroe to burn a timeout, but the Cats wound up kicking for three and nailing it to build a 17-7 lead with 1:53 to play in the first half.

Monroe’s next drive stalled out deep in their own territory with just about 43 seconds to go. A 14-yard connection from Wilson to Knowles looked like Apalachee was back in business with the running clock calling forth halftime, but an errant throw fell into Camp’s arms for the Hurricanes and gave the visitors one last shot with 28 seconds. The ‘Canes would only get off one play, though, on a simple 2-yard gain to end the half.

The Purple Hurricanes started the second half with a sustained drive, similar to Apalachee’s first half opener, but it ended in just three points to cut the Wildcat lead to seven.

They would get the ball back after just one Apalachee play from scrimmage, though, as Billings fumbled on an 8-yard gain for first down and the Hurricanes jumped on top of the loose ball. The ball was not the worst thing that was lost in the fumble, as Billings would come out and not return due to injury. There was no word yet on how long he may be out if at all.

Neither squad managed much offense through the third quarter, but Apalachee did snag another turnover when Knowles intercepted backup Chase Bower with two minutes to go. 

“Kent’s a good football player. He’s not a very big kid, but he’s got unbelievable hands. At some level, Kent’s a college football player if he wants to be,” Davis beamed. “We’re just happy that he continues to make those kinds of plays.”

On offense, Knowles accounted for 62 yards in five catches. He also managed five tackles and at least one deflection on defense. 

Monroe and Apalachee continued the scrimmage with JV and back-up players getting some game-speed experience in the fourth quarter. The two sides traded possessions for the better part of 12 minutes with a couple of turnovers and bad snaps on both sides. Monroe even threatened to score in the final minute, but an additional bad snap and fumble pushed them well out of range as the clock wound down and Apalachee could celebrate the win for sure.

One of Apalachee’s biggest questions entering Friday night was who would have the starting quarterback job in Week One, and that question has a definite answer. That answer is, “Who knows?” 

Ignoring the potentially devastating injury to Billings, Davis admits that both players still have an even shot at getting the nod against Woodland on Aug. 29.

“I’d like to say yes, but as soon as I say yes, then things pop into your mind. Both of them did things well tonight, and both of them did things that potentially hurt us tonight,” Davis mentioned. “We’ve got to be smarter with the ball, we’ve got to hold on to the ball, we can’t overthrow things, so there’s a progression there of things we need to work on.

“We don’t have a decision right now, and I don’t know that we’ll have a decision in two weeks.”

Both quarterbacks had similar numbers Friday night as Billings was 3-for-3 with 43 yards while Wilson was 6-for-10 with 46 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Billings did not throw any interceptions, but he did have the fumble late in the third quarter on a keeper, tallying both quarterbacks with one turnover each.

The flexibility afforded Apalachee with the two backs could result in some unique and shifting offensive packages throughout the season, Davis admits, and that is something that will be true no matter who ultimately starts.

“That’ll always be a package. Regardless of where it goes in the future, it’ll always be a package,” Davis acknowledged. 

No matter who ends up as the starting quarterback, Davis walked away from Friday night trying to enjoy the win for what it was worth, and it was worth quite a bit even when considering the problems that showed up on both sides of the ball.

“I’m trying my best to enjoy a win, but when you don’t have the right personnel out there on special teams and you turn the football over and when you miss tackles on defense, and when you have a chance to get off the field on third and long but you don’t…it’s just frustrating,” Davis listed with a positive slant.

“On the field out here it’s been a long time since we’ve had the scoreboard on our side have a higher number,” Davis noted. “It was ugly at times tonight, but it feels a whole lot better talking about things we’ve got to fix after a win than it does after a loss.”

 

 

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