Arab tops Hazel Green

Dakota NeSmith (21) and Spencer Strickland (1) celebrate NeSmith’s 9-yard TD reception from Aidan Cox in third quarter last week against Hazel Green. Strickland also had a big night with 91 yards and one TD receiving on four catches.

Arab’s Drake Franklin punched Hazel Green’s defense in the midsection in the first half, and that opened the field for quarterback Aidan Cox in the second half, and Cox took full advantage as the Knights beat 6A Hazel Green 49-21 in a game between teams that had playoff berths wrapped up before kickoff.

On a night when Arab honored 22 senior players, one of those seniors, Franklin, ran for 167 yards and one first-half touchdown as Arab improved to 9-1 overall, matching the most wins by an Arab team in school history.

The Knights wrapped up the 5A, Region 7 title the week before and learned after last Friday’s game they’d be hosting East Limestone in the first round of the playoffs next week. Arab is off this Friday.

Hazel Green (4-5) plays at home against Huntsville this week. The Trojans already had clinched third place in 6A, Region 8 and will play Muscle Shoals in the first round of the playoffs.

Franklin was particularly effective in the first half, running for 124 of Arab’s 127 rushing yards. He scored on a 1-yard run with 1 minute left in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7.

He all but scored another first-half TD, rushing three times for 69 yards to the Hazel Green 1 before Cox sneaked it in with 36.8 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 21-14 Arab.

Franklin had back-to-back runs of 35 and 30 yards in the four-play, 70-yard drive.

“Drake opened things up and then our O-line stepped up and played like a team in the second half,” Cox said.

Franklin also praised the offensive line.

“The offense came together and we helped our defense, which was good because they’ve always helped us all season,” Franklin said. “Our offensive line was opening big holes.

“They (defensive linemen) didn’t like being pushed around.”

Arab struck quickly to open the second half. Sparked by Drew Puccio’s 50-yard return of the second half kickoff, the Knights scored in two plays, with Cox hitting Spencer Strickland with a 17-yard TD pass to cap a 35-yard drive. Arab led 28-14 with 11:47 left in the third quarter.

It was in that quarter that the Arab defense asserted itself. Will Caneer had three sacks, two of which led directly to Arab touchdowns in the third quarter.

Caneer sacked Hazel Green quarterback Griffin Fowler on third-and-21 at the Arab 35 midway through the quarter, causing Fowler to fumble. Caleb Perkins recovered it and ran it back to the Hazel Green 40.

Hayden O’Reilly ran it in from the 4 to cap a 10-play drive that included two fourth-down conversions, one coming on a 10-yard pass on fourth-and-5 at the Hazel Green 25 from Cox to Puccio, who made a circus catch along the sideline.

O’Reilly’s TD made it 35-14 Arab with 2:03 left in the third quarter, then Caneer sacked Fowler again on fourth-and-10 at the Arab 36 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.

Starting at the Arab 47 after the sack, Cox proceeded to hit a wide-open Strickland on a 41-yard catch and run to the Hazel Green 9. On the next play, Cox connected with Dakota NeSmith on a 9-yard TD pass as time expired in the third quarter.

Caneer finished with three tackles and two assists. Cox was 12-of-16 passing for 156 yards and three touchdowns. He also connected with Puccio on a 19-yard TD pass in the second quarter.

Strickland had four catches for 91 yards. Puccio had seven receptions for 56 yards.

O’Reilly, who ran for 23 yards, also scored on a 15-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, ending the scoring for the night.

Armond Caldwell had a big night for Hazel Green, rushing for 76 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries. He ran 4 yards for the first TD of the game and then scored again in the second quarter on a 6-yard run that tied the game at 14 with 2:43 in the half.

It was mostly Arab the rest of the way except for Caldwell’s 3-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter.

Josh Roe and Patrick Lawler, both seniors, had five tackles each. Roe also had five assists and Lawler had four.

O’Reilly and Wyatt Lamar also had five tackles each, with O’Reilly assisting one two tackles and Lamar one.

Logan Silva had three solos and three assists; Hagen Stewart had four solos and one assist; Graydon Isom had two tackles and two assists; and Dylan Morrow had two solo stops.

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