Defense the difference for Isabella
VINCENT – Isabella used an interception returned for a touchdown by Blake Lawley and a safety by Austin Haigler (pictured) to take a 23-14 win over Vincent.
Both teams lost key players to cramps for several downs in the second half, but Vincent (2-1, 0-1) lost more, and it cost them.
“Tonight was the most humid night we’ve had so far this year. We tell our guys to hydrate and hydrate and hydrate, but we lost a couple players throughout the course of the game from cramping,” Vincent head coach Dwight Spradley said. “We don’t have enough players. We need all of them we’ve got out there, and when you start cramping, it puts us in a bind.”
The Yellow Jackets bulled their way to a 6-0 lead with a 32-yard touchdown run by junior Juwan Rogers on their first possession. After the ensuing kickoff, Isabella botched a handoff. It appeared a Vincent player may have recovered the fumble on the Mustangs’ 36 but Isabella retained possession. Later in the half, Mustangs quarterback Allen Edwards fumbled the snap and Vincent did recover, but the referees made the teams replay the down.
“The first one our guy looked like he had it. The official called [Isabella] recovered it and he said one of our guys took it as their guy was getting up. I’m going to look on the film and see if that’s the case,” Spradley said. “The second one was a blown call. It was an inadvertant whistle. The back judge blew the whistle and he shouldn’t have. There’s nothing they can do but redo the down. They apologized to me.
“It was a big play because obviously they scored the very next down.”
Edwards found Gardner on a 12-yard touchdown pass that gave Isabella a 7-6 lead with 3:14 left in the second quarter. Less than a minute later, Vincent quarterback Corey Deloach threw the ball up for grabs to avoid a sack. Junior Blake Lawley intercepted the pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw that he was going down and all of the sudden the ball ended up in my hands, so I ran it for a touchdown,” Lawley said.
Lawley and senior Austin Haigler harrassed Deloach all night. Lawley crushed Deloach on a first-half sack and made two touchdown-saving tackles on Rogers.
“He’s the best defensive player we’ve got, so when he tells us what he thinks we should do, we just go with it,” Isabella head coach Lanny Jones said.
The final stake spiking Vincent’s hopes was a 16-yard screen pass to Isabella senior Brian Donovan that set up the game-winning 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Norman Craig with 5:43 left.Donovan rushed 22 times for 102 yards, and his three receptions for 89 yards all came on screen passes in crucial situations.
“They kept sending a lot of blitzes inside hard. If they were going to do that, they didn’t have much help outside and we were giving extra help out there, so it was just a big play for us,” Jones said.
The Yellow Jackets got the ball back at their own 9 with 25 seconds left, but Dylan Green sacked Edwards in the end zone on the game’s final play for a safety.
“I felt like we pretty much had control of the game in the first half,” Spradley said. “We got down there and should’ve scored and made it 14-0, but we turned it over on downs and that kind of swung momentum their way. They ended up scoring those two touchdowns right before the half and that put us behind the eight ball.”
The win marks the second consecutive victory for Isabella (3-0, 2-0) in Class 2A, Region 4. The Mustangs finished 0-10 as a member of Class 1A in 2005 and 2006 as part of a 23-game losing streak. Jones produced a surprise 5-5 season in his first year as head coach in 2007, but Isabella moved up to 2A this year. They beat Region 4 favorite Fultondale 20-10 last week.
“I had dreams of winning, and now my dreams are finally coming true,” Lawley said. “I’d been on an 0-10 team for two years, and now my dream’s finally come true.”
Jones said he’s thrilled with his team’s record heading into next week’s game against American Christian.
“At the beginning of the season, I told our parents, we’ll take the challenge [of playing in Class 2A] and I hope we’re prepared for the challenge,” Jones said. “With the expectations being high, we don’t have a choice but to play hard. I’m not really surprised because our boys worked hard.”
Brian Donovan rushed 22 times for 108 yards. Norman Craig gained 67 yards on seven carries. Edwards completed six of sixteen attempts for 128 yards.
Lawley led the defensive effort with 11 tackles. Willie Stacy added nine tackles.