Both head coaches had some concerns entering last Friday’s Arab at Boaz football game.
Both teams faced playoff games the following Friday – the Pirates going to Parker, the Knights hosting Homewood – and neither Jeremy Sullivan of Boaz nor Lee Ozmint of Arab knew exactly what to expect from his team in a game that was more about pride and Marshall County bragging rights than anything else.
So, there was some tension in the air on the Arab side of the field when two of the Knights’ first three offensive snaps were stopped because of false start penalties.
“We had trouble hearing,” wide receiver John Wesson Johnson explained later.
Talk about a false start. Arab faced second-and-18 from its own 4 less that 40 seconds into the game.
Then what happened next will be talked about for years by this group of Arab football players. Dakota Nesmith turned a pass by QB James Ed Johnson into a 62-yard gain, and the Knights were off to the races.
Five plays later, Johnson ran it up the middle for 6 yards and an Arab touchdown with 8:25 left in the quarter.
After Gavin Currrier made the extra point, he lofted a perfect kickoff down the right sideline that bounced once, and that was all it took for Arab’s Jacob Cobb to pounce on it at the Boaz 28 (see sidebar).
After a pass interference call on Boaz, Drake Franklin ran it 18 yards into the end zone. With 8:06 left in the first period, it was 14-0.
A clearly stunned Boaz team went three-and-out and shanked a punt. Starting at Arab’s 40, Johnson hit Drew Puccio with another long-gainer, this time to the Pirates’ 6. Four running plays by Johnson later, it was 21-0 – and still there was 4:29 left on the first quarter clock.
Boaz made a first down – its first of the game – but still had to punt (another shank) and Arab started at the Boaz 38 with 2:27 left in the quarter. Ed Johnson hit Wes Johnson with a 14-yard pass, then Hayden O’Reilly ran it to the 15.
On second-and-1 at the 15, Ed Johnson tossed a short pass to Wes, who broke three tackles and went into the end zone standing, ball held high. It was 28-0 with 1:47 left in the corner.
Remarkably, Arab still had more to accomplish in the half. After finally getting stopped short of the goal line, Arab called on Currier, who kicked a 34-yard field goal with 10:06 to play before halftime.
On its ensuing drive, Boaz made a first down, but on the very next play, Joshua Roe stepped in front of a Tyler Pierce pass and raced 38 yards into the end zone.
After that inauspicious start, Arab scored 38 straight points – and still there was 8:46 left in the opening half.
Ozmint and his staff couldn’t have asked for a better game to lead into this week’s preparation for Friday’s home 6A playoff game against Homewood.
“There are three phases to the game, offense, defense and special teams, and I felt like our kids played well in all three,” he said.
Still, Ozmint didn’t really stop worrying until maybe halftime. That’s because of an experience he had during his college days at Alabama.
In 1989, Ole Miss jumped out to a 21-0 lead against the Tide, only to see Homer Smith’s offense roar back to score 62 straight points in a 62-27 victory.
“The (Boaz) game never settled in during the first half,” Ozmint said. “There was no balance to it.
“When you get up like that, you can lose your composure if you don’t watch it. And when it (a major turnaround) happens against you, there’s not much you can do. You have to keep your own kids’ heads in the game (despite the score).
“I was happy with the way we stayed focused.”
Boaz scored a TD just before half – a Pierce 15-yard pass to Gavin Smart – then Aidan Cox led Arab on a scoring drive late in the third quarter, connecting with Nesmith on a 19-yard TD pass with 1:33 left in the quarter.
Cox also played in the secondary while quarterbacking, an obvious attempt to get him on the field more, this season but mainly next year when he’ll be a senior.
Cox wasn’t the only one. Arab coaches were able to get a lot of young players on the field in the second half.
“It was good to get them on the stage,” Ozmint said. “It’ll be very good for them for next year.”
The win wrapped up Arab’s best regular season since Keith Garner’s 2003 team also went 8-2.
As might be expected, several players padded their individual stats in the game, during which Arab outgained Boaz 402-256 yards.
Ed Johnson was 12-of-14 passing for 210 yards. He also had 18 yards rushing on seven attempts. Cox was 4-for-4 for 45 yards.
O’Reilly had one of his better offensive games, rushing for 72 yards on six carries mostly after Franklin went down with an ankle injury. Franklin gained 20 yards on four carries. Logan Alldredge gained 31 yards on 10 carries and Drake Brown ran it once for 4 yards.
Nesmith had four catches for 91 yards. Puccio had three for 69 yards. Brody McCain had five receptions for 46 yards and Wes Johnson hauled in three passes for 43 yards.
Logan Silva had eight solo tackles and two assists. Joe Roe had three solo stops and four assists in addition to his interception.
John Ray Wilks and Jackson Martin had four solo stops each, while Jonathan Pugh and Caleb Roe had three solo tackles. Pugh also assisted on another.