COVINGTON, Ga. — In a game where Alcovy football coach Chris Edgar will tell you his team made too many mistakes for the second week in a row, the irony is that Alcovy’s last major mistake actually gave them a chance to win.
Despite a myriad of penalties, high snaps, fumbles and foibles, Alcovy literally ran its way to a 25-19 overtime win against Rockdale Thursday night at Sharp Stadium.
It was a win powered by a rushing attack that amassed 390 yards, saw two ball carriers eclipse the 100-yard mark, and a third — quarterback Jalen Campbell — come within three yards of making it a trio.
Natorian Holloway finished with 148 yards on 17 carries, while Andrae Robinson chipped in with 145 yards on 13 carries and Campbell finished with 97. But it was Robinson’s last tote — a 7-yard burst up the middle of the Rockdale defense that ended with a dramatic stretching of the ball across the goal line — that won the game for the Tigers.
“My coach always tells us in practice to give the extra effort,” Robinson said. “Give the 110 percent, not just the 100 percent. So when I ran into (the Rockdale defender), I was still on my feet, and I knew I still had to get the extra yard for the touchdown. All I was thinking was, 'I’ve gotta win this game for my brothers,' and we came out with the win.”
Robinson got some help from safety La’Ken Nettles and one of the Sharp Stadium goalposts, though, in setting up his game-clinching efforts.
After Holloway’s two-yard score that gave Alcovy a 12-6 lead with 5:24 left in regulation, the Tigers forced and recovered a Rockdale fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Several plays later, Robinson scooted 33 yards to the end zone, stretching the lead to 19-6 with 4:01 left.
Rockdale would respond, however, when quarterback Justin Steele marched his team down the field and drew the Bulldogs within six points with a three-yard rushing touchdown at the 2:00 mark.
At that point it seemed all Alcovy had to do was run the ball a few times into a tired Rockdale defense and melt the clock. But on the first play of Alcovy's next drive, Holloway and Campbell had trouble handling the ball on a zone-read handoff, causing a fumble which Rockdale pounced on at the 50-yard line.
On the next play, Nettles got his first interception of the night, once again seemingly sealing a win for Alcovy. However, Bulldogs coach Jamie Baldwin used all his timeouts to preserve clock, and the Tigers failed to convert a first down, forcing them to punt.
Several plays later, Steele would find Darren Stephens streaking to the corner of the end zone on a fade route. Stephens boxed out the smaller Alcovy defensive back and came down with a 16-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 19.
This is where it got interesting.
After Stephens’ catch, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which pushed Rockdale back 15 yards on the point-after try, making it a 35-yard attempt. Rockdale’s Jonas Woodruff nailed the extra point, touching off a raucous celebration on the Rockdale bench, as it appeared to give the Bulldogs a 20-19 lead with 2.6 seconds left.
However, Alcovy was called for an offsides penalty on the try, and with that being a dead ball foul, it pushed Rockdale up five yards, making them kick again, this time from just 30 yards out.
But on this kick, Woodruff stutter-stepped a bit on the approach and shanked it just enough to where it bounced off the left upright of the goal post and fell to the ground, keeping the score knotted at 19.
With overtime in non-region games being optional, and a decision to be made by the visiting coach, Baldwin didn’t hesitate to grant permission for the extra period — a decision Edgar praised him for.
“Coach Baldwin is a stand-up guy for making that decision, and that game deserved a winner,” Edgar said. “I hate it for them to have ended that way, but I’m happy as heck for our team.”
In the extra frame, Rockdale got the ball first, 15 yards away from the end zone, per high school football overtime rules. But Steele tossed his fourth interception of the night to Nettles who caught it with the back of his right foot in the end zone.
It gave Alcovy the ball back, needing just a field goal to win.
“At that point I’m thinking that I’ve got a great kicker, so once we got that interception, all we gotta do is not do anything silly, and let (Jose Ramos) go in there and take care of it,” Edgar said.
But that’s when Robinson took the zone-read handoff from Campbell, sliced through a crease his offensive line opened for him, bounced off a Rockdale tackler and stretched across for the game-winning score.
“Fortunately we didn’t have to need (Ramos),” Edgar said. “Andrae finished off the run, got the touchdown and everybody’s happy.”
That happiness wasn’t as easy to find through the earlier part of the game.
Alcovy was nursing a 6-0 halftime lead, thanks to 39 and 24-yard Ramos field goals that came only after promising scoring drives stalled out, leaving Edgar frustrated at another mistake-filled performance.
“We still made a ton of mistakes tonight,” he said. “Just like I said last week, I think we left a lot of points out there, but our guys battled the whole game, faced adversity throughout the whole game, and despite leaving points on the board, we got the job done.”
Alcovy’s offense seemed to kick into high gear, scoring its two fourth quarter touchdowns after Steele went around right end to score on a 25-yard keeper, tying the game at 6 with 11:31.
The Tigers decided to stick with the run game for the rest of the night as they were visibly wearing down Rockdale’s defensive front seven, which Edgar said was something his coaching staff felt they could do, coming into the game.
“I don't think we threw a pass the whole second half," Edgar said. "Our game plan all along was to run the football,” Edgar said. “I’m so proud of (offensive line coach) Zack Davis and what he’s doing with that offensive line. They’re finally starting to come together as a cohesive unit, and when that happens, with those backs behind them, they’re dangerous.”
Holloway said he and his teammates — particular the tailbacks and offensive line — were camping at the bit to execute what they’d studied during the week.
“We went and studied film from Sunday until Thursday, and were just ready to really come out and do our job,” he said. “We realized we could have success pounding the ball. Our o-line got on the ball fast. They didn’t wait. They kept pounding, kept pounding and we knew they were going to eventually wear out if we kept running.”
The run-heavy scheme was part of the reason Edgar and his staff elected to start Campbell — a Luella transfer — over Simmons in the game.
“Nick came in at the end of the first half and did a great job getting us into field goal range,” Edgar said. “He’s a good passer. He knows the offense, but I just felt Jaelen’s athletic ability on offense and his athletic ability when he pulls on that run was going to be great for us. Our offensive staff made that call, and we’re extremely proud of him. We’re extremely proud of Nick too. Nick’s a competitor and he wants to be out here, but he understood that our offense was clicking at that point.”
Now Edgar and company are excited to get back to another full week of practice to keep perfecting the run game in lieu of next Friday’s tussle with in-county rival Eastside. And Holloway says he believes this game shows that Alcovy’s got a formula on offense that’s worth sticking with.
“Next week against Eastside, we’re gonna continue to find holes to run through,” he said. “I know they’re gonna be opening. It ain’t gonna be easy, but we coming with that thump next week. We messed up a bit against Rockdale, but with Eastside, we know we’re gonna have to work and come with it to get that dub.”