Arab's Aidan Cox

Arab QB Aidan Cox (11) was 7-of-11 passing for 40 yards and one TD against Cullman.

It was only a jamboree, but Arab’s football players found out a lot about themselves last Thursday night at Oliver Woodard Stadium in Cullman.

Playing a probable 6A playoff-bound team in the Bearcats, the Knights took some punches to the grill, but they managed to stay off the canvas and ended up scoring eight points late to tie Cullman 14-14 in the two-quarter contest.

All of that will matter little when the Knights travel to Albertville to take on the 7A Aggies tonight (Thursday). Jamboree results don’t count toward a team’s record and the stats don’t count, either.

But lessons learned may very well count – a lot.

Any vestiges of overconfidence were beat out of the Knights during the first quarter. At times, Cullman’s defensive front manhandled the Knights’ O-line.

But they didn’t give up.

“That’s the way to fight, that’s the way to fight,” an exuberant head coach Lee Ozmint said to his players on the field at “halftime” (the second half was reserved for likely JV players for both teams).

The next day, Ozmint was still fired up.

“They showed a lot of grit,” he said. “That’s a very good Cullman team. Our players were all excited when they beat Cullman 7-0 in last year’s jamboree (at Arab).

“But to play them to a tie, at Cullman, I think is a bigger deal. Those guys could’ve folded, said the game doesn’t count. But just out of pride, with and for each other, they didn’t.”

Cullman, Ozmint said, looked bigger than the players that came to Arab for an OTA in July.

“I don’t know if some of their players were playing baseball or on vacation or what, but when we walked onto the field, I talked to several of our coaches and said, ‘This isn’t the same team we saw in Arab.’ They just looked bigger,” Ozmint said.

But that didn’t bother Ozmint one bit.

“We got punched in the face and that’s what I wanted to happen,” he said. “And they did. It’s not really something you talk about but football is a violent sport.

“I know one thing. We were a better football team Friday morning than we were when we took the field Thursday night.”

Much of Ozmint’s praise – as it has all offseason – went to the team’s seniors. They set a tone for the rest of the team, and against Cullman they were instrumental.

Cullman, set up with a long pass on a botched coverage assignment, scored with 6:23 to go in the first quarter on a 20-yard pass by QB Ryan Skinner to go up 7-0.

Senior QB Aidan Cox calmly drove the Knights to a matching score, ultimately hitting Drew Puccio on a 9-yard strike after converting three third downs on the drive with pinpoint throws. Senior Drake Franklin gained most of his 41 yards (on nine attempts) on the drive. The extra point try by Aiden Wooten was no good.

Cullman went up eight points when Skinner scored on a QB keeper from 6 yards out with 6:23 to play. Arab couldn’t move the ball and had to punt. But when Cullman’s offense also couldn’t move the ball, the Skinner forced a throw and Arab’s Hagan Stewart intercepted, setting Arab up on the Cullman 31 with 5:16 to play.

Arab thought it caught a break when a deep Cox pass down the right sideline brought out a flag. But it was picked up and the Knights had to try again. Another pass interference did help Arab convert a third down inside the 10. Three plays actually lost yardage but on fourth down, a Cox pass to the side of the end zone was broken up by a Cullman defender who actually rode the Arab receiver out of bounds.

Set up at the 1, Cox eventually punched it in with 31.9 seconds left. Arab went for two and Cox hit Puccio in the back of the end zone for a spectacular pitch and catch to make it 14-14.

Cox was 7-of-11 passing for 40 yards. Brody McCain had two catches for 14 yards and Dakota NeSmith had two receptions for nine yards. Spencer Strickland had one catch for 12 yards.

Senior nose guard, and newcomer, Will Caneer spearheaded a tenacious defensive effort. He had four solo tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Hayden O’Reilly, who also spelled Franklin at running back, had two solo stopes and four assists.

Wyatt Lamar had three solo tackles and one assist. Graydon Isom had two solo stops and Patrick Lawler had one solo tackle and two assists. Logan Silva assisted on three tackles and John Ray Wilks had one solo stop and one assist.

Dylan Morrow and Josh Roe each assisted on two tackles and Conner Knighten had one assist. Stewart had one solo stop in addition to his interception.

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