Maplesville passes road test, wins at Sweet Water

Published 12:36 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Maplesville High School earned arguably its biggest win in recent years upending Sweet Water High School 28-21 in the second round of the AHSAA Class 1A state football playoffs on Nov. 17. The Red Devils took down the No. 3 ranked team in Class 1A football by the last Alabama Sports Writers Association rankings for the regular season to the tune of 362 total yards, out gaining Sweet Water 362-173.

“Preparation this week was outstanding, the kids went down (there) believing in everything we had talked about that they had to do this week to go down and do what they did to a very good Sweet Water team,” Maplesville head coach Brad Abbott said. “Our fans were unbelievable, and when we came out of the locker room at halftime and looked across the field and the visitor stands are empty because they are all lined up at the fence getting our guys going after halftime.”

The score was tied at 14 when the Maplesville fans offered their help to boost the Red Devils to the road win. In the first half, Sweet Water used half of the first quarter clock to take its opening drive for a touchdown and hold a 6-0 lead.

The Maplesville defense did not waiver after the lengthy drive, forcing a safety to start the second quarter. Abbott said the defense adjusted to the snap count, the flow of the game and how the running backs were hitting the holes over the course of the game. They forced two fumbles in the quarter, one leading to a touchdown and the other stopping a Sweet Water drive inside Maplesville territory.

Nehemiah McCary punched in a one-yard touchdown run to give Maplesville the lead later in the second quarter, and quarterback Bradlee Padgett found Aidan Abbott for an 11-yard strike to go up 14-6 before Sweet Water tied the game before halftime.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter starting with McCary’s second of the game from one yard out, but the conversion was missed. McCary ran for 65 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.

Sweet Water responded with a touchdown the ensuing drive, but converted its extra point to take a 21-20 lead entering the final quarter.

The fourth quarter began with Maplesville facing a fourth down deep inside its own territory. During specialist time during the week of practice leading up to the game, Maplesville special team’s coordinator Jeremy White told the punt team that if the situation presented itself where Sweet Water would rush the punt, he had a fake that the Red Devils would score on.

When fourth down hit, White cued the headset to say they were running it.

“He said ‘If they walk up, we are going to run it,’ and we said when we were coming down here we were going to empty the bag, so I said let’s do it,” Brad Abbott said. “It worked to perfection, Bradlee faked like he was going to kick and hit Cade Smith right down the middle of the field and went 82 yards for the touchdown. It was a gutsy call, but it was not because our kids had executed it in practice, and we actually executed it better during the game than in practice. They just believed.”

The touchdown was called back for a Maplesville penalty, but the first down stood and the Red Devils retained possession near midfield, netting over 30 yards with the fake to keep the drive alive. That aided Padgett to find Aidan Abbott again, this time for a 34-yard touchdown connection, and Padgett took in the two-point conversion to go up 28-21 with nine minutes left.

Padgett was 18-for-26 passing for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, good enough for a 116.7 quarterback rating. He completed balls to six different Maplesville receivers with Aidan Abbot grabbing a team-high nine catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Johnathon Wilson caught five passes for 56 yards, and McCary, Lane Epperson, Cade Smith and Colby Mitchell each hauled in one catch each.

The Red Devils’ defense came up with a huge sack to force a punt from Sweet Water later in the quarter, and Wilson iced the game with an interception to seal their trip to the third round. Wilson had a team-high seven tackles.

“It was a big win for me as a head coach, but as a Maplesville person, graduate, ex player and fan at heart, this was a big win period even if I was sitting in the stands,” Brad Abbott said. “For our kids to silence the naysayers who said ‘You cannot go down there with this team.’ For them to block out the noise, believe that they could and go down there and do it was a big win for me as far as my career, but it is a big win for that memory of kids buying into something, believing in something and receiving the reward of the hard work.”

The win for Maplesville evened the all-time series between the two schools at 7-7. The Red Devils will now host No. 2 ranked and unbeaten Elba High School on Nov. 24 in the third round of the AHSAA Class 2A state football playoffs with a ticket to the semifinals on the line.