The North Jackson Chiefs left Arab Friday night with a convincing 41-22 victory and a couple of impressive state records.
The Arabian Knights left the field with a lot of hope for the future and a sincere appreciation for a handful of seniors who worked, endured and continued to improve despite the odds stacked against them all season long.
“It reminds me of when I played at Cullman,” said coach Oscar Glasscock. “We graduated with six or seven seniors in a very similar situation. I know what those guys have been through with coaching changes, a change in culture and everything that goes with that.
“My hat’s off to them for being positive and helping us start the foundation here.”
Seniors Jordan Hardin, Harrison Hall, Hunter Wilemon, Bailey Phillips, Cole Simmons, Zack Malone and Dalton Hunt will all move on from the high school playing field (another senior, Clay Jay, was forced to transfer before Senior Night because his family moved).
But, they’ll do that with a deep respect from the community that watched them lead a promising roster of freshmen, sophomores and juniors who will return next year much more seasoned, prepared and improved.
“Coach (Mark) Rose at North Jackson told me after the game that we were the most physical team they had played this year,” Glasscock said. “That was music to my ears.
“When you look at where we started in the spring to where we are now, I think we’re officially a tough football team that will fight you.”
Glasscock has said from the beginning there was work to be done and with a small senior class, this season would be a work in progress. Despite the frustrations of a 1-9 record, the coach is content that there was significant improvement made throughout the year.
“These guys never quit; they learned to be tough,” he said.
For the Knights, the “off season” has already begun.
“We’ve been lifting four days a week since about midseason and we’ll go right back in the weight room Monday,” he said. “We’re going to be a bigger, stronger, faster, more experienced team next year.
“It’s going to take a lot of work between now and then, but there is a lot of positivity about this program. Good days are ahead, they really are.”
Glasscock said the community has been very supportive.
“All our coaches have talked about how happy we are to be in Arab. The support has been consistent in good times and bad. This is a special place and we’re going to try to put the best product we can on the football field next fall,” he said.
The Chiefs came into the game last Friday with a chance to break the state record for most points scored in a regular season and they accomplished that. Their 617 points surpassed the 594 Edgewood Academy had in 2014.
Their outstanding running back, Lee Witherspoon, also had a chance to break the single-season record for most touchdowns scored in a season, and he did. Witherspoon scored five times against the Knights, giving him 54 for the year, to slip past Beauregard’s Ladamian Webb, who had 53 just two years ago.
Of those, Webb had 49 rushing touchdowns while Witherspoon has 48.
Witherspoon’s 357 yards rushing on 18 carries against the Knights left him with 2,523 for the year, a 21.7 yard average per carry.
Witherspoon certainly was the story of the game, but for Knights fans, not the only story.
With North Jackson averaging just over 66 points a game coming in, many folks were, at the least, not expecting Arab to be ahead 15-6 midway through the second quarter. The Knights were successful using sustained, time-killing drives to the keep the Chiefs’ high-powered offense off the field perhaps more than they would have liked.
Arab drove 11 plays to the North Jackson 20 on the opening drive only to have a field goal attempt blocked by Travis Woodall.
North Jackson took over at the 30 and scored in one play on Witherspoon’s first touchdown run of the night.
Arab answered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive with quarterback Alex Alcala going in from 1 yard out. On a fake extra point attempt, kicker Cole Simmons completed a pass to tight end Taylor Ferguson for the two-point conversion to give the Knights an 8-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Simmons recovered his own on-side kick to give Arab the ball at the Chiefs’ 42. On third down, Mathew Turnage got 6 yards to the 32 and from there, Alcala hit Tyler Alldredge for a touchdown. Simmons kick gave Arab a 15-6 lead with 8:27 to go in the half.
Problem was, that was plenty of time for North Jackson to take the lead into halftime. Witherspoon scored back-to-back touchdowns on runs of 46 and 56 yards to give the Chiefs a 20-15 lead, still with 2:03 to go in the half as Christian Eaton was able to block the second extra point attempt.
Freshman James Ed Johnson saw some time at quarterback to close out the half for the Knights.
“We checked Alex out at halftime and went through a little bit of concussion protocol, but he was fine and was able to come back,” Glasscock said. “We were very fortunate in that we didn’t have a full-blown concussion all year.”
North Jackson scored twice in the third quarter, on a 15-yard run by Christopher Ware and a 61-yard run by Witherspoon.
Arab’s last score came with 3:50 to go in the game, when Alcala connected with Will Hudson on a 28-yard touchdown pass to cap a 14-play, 76-yard drive. Simmons kicked the extra point.
But, four plays later, Witherspoon set the new state record on a 15-yard run on a third-and-four call with 2:01 to go in the game.
While Glasscock is not much for a pat on the back for good effort, he understands the reasoning.
“That’s been our constant refrain,” he said. “You always hear those clichés of never quitting and blah, blah, blah. But, these guys really did that.
“We had some season-ending injuries and those type things, but just like Alex’s situation tonight, I’m really happy with his efforts and his toughness. We had a lot of guys play and fight through a lot of things this year so I was really pleased with their effort.”
Arab had 272 yards offense with 17 first downs compared to North Jackson’s 402 yards, all rushing, and seven first downs. While most of the attention was focused on Witherspoon, Arab’s Turnage had an exceptional night with 120 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Eaton added 54 yards on 14 carries and Alldredge had 19 yards on 7 carries. Alcala was 4-of-8 passing for 72 yards. The Knights were penalized three times for 35 yards while the Chiefs were penalized twice for 30 yards.
While the Knights’ football season has come to an end, several of their opponents will move on to the state playoffs this week. Curry will be at North Jackson, Alexandria will be at Madison Academy, Guntersville will be at Etowah, Brewer will be at Southside and Boaz will be at East Limestone.
Also locally, Holly Pond will be at Geraldine, DAR will be at Northside and in a rematch, J.B. Pennington will be at Susan Moore. The Tigers lost to the Bulldogs earlier in the season, 28-21.