With East Limestone's offense sputtering, it was a big defensive play that turned the momentum of the game, and propel the Indians to a 26-15 victory over rival West Limestone Thursday night.
With East leading 12-2 early in the fourth quarter, Jed Sutherland intercepted a pass and returned it to the West Limestone 20-yard line.
It only took East Limestone three plays to score. An 11-yard run from Xavier Sigler and an eight-yard run by DJ Davis put the Indians at the 1-yard line. Fullback Crimson Bivens then bulled his way into the end zone to put the Indians up 19-2 following Syrus James' extra point with 10:15 remaining and give them the breathing space they would need to see out the victory.
“That interception was huge,” Pugh said. “Our whole secondary is new guys. None of them played last year, so they're going to get beat deep some, but we're working on it. Jed played well all night. He knocked down about three potential touchdown passes.”
East Limestone extended its lead to 26-2 on its next possession, as Davis raced 27 yards down the sideline for a score with 6:06 remaining that sent many of the fans headed for the exits.
But West Limestone finally got its offense in gear on its next possession. A 41-yard run by Thorne Slaton put the Wildcats in scoring position, and quarterback CJ Adams found River Helms on a screen pass that the receiver turned into a 29-yard touchdown play with 3:41 remaining.
West Limestone then recovered an onside kick and quickly scored again, as Adams found Tyree Hiliare down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
The Wildcats tried another onside kick, but East recovered it and was able to run out the clock and take the victory.
“I'm proud of the way we finished the game,” West Limestone coach Shelby Davis said. “This game doesn't make us or break us. We were in this game. Last year (a 34-3 loss), we weren't even in the game. We like where we're at but we've just got to keep working.”
Pugh was not pleased with the way his team finished the game after taking the 24-point lead.
“We've got to put people away,” he said. “It's just like the Russellville (jamboree) game last week. We let them back in the game. We give up an onside kick today because we weren't lined up when they kicked it. Ridiculous. That's part (the players') fault, and a lot my fault, and a lot my special teams coach's fault. He'll be getting an earful, too. He already has.”
While the two teams combined for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the first three quarters was a much more defensive affair.
East Limestone jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first few minutes after taking the opening kickoff and marching right down the field. The drive was capped off with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Sutherland to Kollin Swart with 9:09 remaining in the first quarter.
East Limestone punted on its next possession, but marched right down the field on its third possession and added to its lead.
Sigler had runs of 22, 22 and 20 yards on the drive. Swart added an 18-yard run of his own to set up a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Sutherland to put the Indians up 12-0 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt.
Sigler and Swart combined to rush for 189 yards, with Sigler having 96 yards on nine carries and Swart having 93 yards on nine carries. Swart was in and out of the game all night after taking several hard hits, but he came back to make one big play after another.
“They wanted to take me out, but my dad has always taught me to never quit, so I always fight back and keep going,” Swart said. “It was a tough battle, but we fought through it and got the win, and that's all that matters.”
West Limestone's only points in the first three quarters came midway through the second, when Colton Hobson blocked a punt that rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety. That made the score 12-2, where it remained until Sutherland's interception finally got the Indians' offense back in gear.
East Limestone (1-0) will host Madison Academy Friday, while West Limestone (1-1) has an off week.
“It's always good to start off with a win,” Pugh said. “The kids will rally around that. But we did this last year, though, and then went and played terrible at Madison Academy. So, we've got to play better next week to win that football game.”