A loss in the final minute and a half against Brewer could have derailed them.
A last-minute defeat to rival Guntersville could have crushed their souls.
But the Arab Knights again bounced back from a devastating Region 8 loss and won a critical home region game Friday night against East Limestone. The 36-14 win keeps the Knights in the race for a playoff berth heading into their toughest stretch of the season.
Arab coaches and players are by now focused on this Friday’s huge region showdown at Scottsboro. But last Friday night, all they wanted to do was celebrate another big victory, which pushed their overall record to 4-2.
“I’m telling you, this was a gut-check game,” an extremely pleased Lee Ozmint said afterward.
Ozmint sensed something about the way his players responded to the 45-42 loss at Guntersville two weeks earlier. A bye week came at an opportune time.
“These guys know what’s at stake now,” Ozmint said after quarterback Ross Reynolds passed for 226 yards and three touchdowns and Mathew Turnage ran for 163 yards and one TD on 23 carries in the win over East Limestone (0-4 region, 1-5 overall).
“These guys made a decision that they’re going to fight for the seniors. They want to fight for Ross, and Colby (King), and Zac (Pugh), and Will (Hudson) and Kent (Tyler) and Tyler (Alldredge), all the seniors.
“A lot of those guys have worked so hard for this program, and their teammates want them to go out winners. That’s what they decided (over the off week), and I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the whole bunch.”
One senior, Colby King, has played varsity football just one season, but what a season it has been. Against East Limestone, King hauled in five passes from Reynolds for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
His three TD receptions covered 47, 19 and 40 yards. For his efforts, Arab coaches named King the Offensive Player of the Week (see page 2B).
John Wesson Johnson was named Defensive Player of the Week after making six tackles – one for a loss – and forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and making one interception.
Christian Eaton, Special Teams Player of the Week, made five tackles, including one that saved a touchdown. He also had four kick pressures.
Arab led 16-14 at the half but outscored East Limestone 20-0 in the second half. Ozmint was pleased with the offense’s production – 463 yards on 55 plays – but he seemed even more happy about the defense’s effort.
“I’m so proud of the defense,” he said. “They showed up to play. Our run fits were good for the most part.
“In the first half, we gave up 139 yards, but they got 79 on two plays”
East Limestone finished with 256 total yards. Arab’s defense stymied two second-half drives by East Limestone that seemed destined for scoring threats. Wes Johnson stripped one receiver of the ball on a first-down pass near the end of the third quarter that Arab recovered on its 8.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Johnson intercepted a pass near midfield that essentially sealed the win.Arab’s Colin Stewart got the Knights on the board first with a 21-yard field goal with 3:21 to go in the first quarter. Later, the Knights botched an extra point for the first time all season after scoring to retake the lead 9-7 with 6:56 left in the half.
The TD came on a Reynolds-to-King connection (47 yards). After East Limestone scored to make it 14-9, Reynolds and King connected yet again on a 19-yard scoring pass with 1:27 left in the half to make it 16-14.
Reynolds ran 28 yards for a third-quarter score then hit King for another TD, this one from 40 yards.
Turnage ended the scoring with a 3-yard TD run with 6:40 left.
Arab plays a hugely significant game at Scottsboro on Friday. Until last Friday, Scottsboro was tied atop the Region 8 standings with Madison Academy, but surprising lost to Madison County 20-7.
“Scottsboro’s hot,” Ozmint said before learning of the Wildcats’ loss, “but we’re pretty hot ourselves.”