By Charles Curcio, Sports Editor
Sunday, December 1, 2013 —
Entering Friday’s third round playoff game, the Albemarle football team had reached the regional finals round of the state playoffs five of the past six years, first in the 1AA in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and then the 1A subdivision the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs needed a home win Friday to reach the semifinals of the state playoffs for the fourth straight season as well.
Despite committing seven turnovers and only having the ball for 18 out of 48 minutes of the game, the Bulldogs advanced to the 2013 1A Western Regional Finals with a 29-20 win over the South Robeson Mustangs.
The offense for Albemarle (11-3) produced 294 net yards of offense in the game in just 18:32 of time possessing the football. Robert Mack and K.J. McKinney both had rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs, while quarterback Bryan Blanton threw two touchdown passes, one to Travis Bennett and the other to tight end Andre Ridenhour.
Andrew Hill led the Mustangs (8-6) and all of the running backs in the game with 143 yards and two touchdowns.
After the two teams exchanged fumbles early in the first quarter, South Robeson held the Bulldogs to a three-and-out, forcing a punt down to the nine-yard line.
After Hill lost three yards on his first carry, his next was a dive play that broke through the middle of the Albemarle defense for a 94-yard touchdown. Juan Ellerbee’s two-point conversion run failed and the Mustangs led 6-0 just over two minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs immediately responded after an A.J. Harris return put Albemarle at the South Robeson 49-yard line. Five plays later, Robert Mack scored on a dive play from 24 yards out, with Mason Krol’s extra point putting the Bulldogs up 7-6.
Late in the opening quarter, Albemarle had a long nine-play drive stopped with an interception on fourth down at the Mustangs’ 36. The two teams then traded the football with consecutive fumbles, but neither produced points.
Albemarle went to some trickery in the second quarter, trying to keep a drive alive when Blanton, who also punts for the Bulldogs, took off on a fake punt and came upshort of a first down.
After several drives by both teams failed to score, the Bulldogs ended up with the better field position at the Albemarle 46. Stepping back to pass, Blanton found a wide-open Travis Bennett, who bobbled the football off his knee then picked it out of the air on the run and scooted 54 yards for the touchdown. Krol’s PAT put the Bulldogs up 14-6.
With 3:46 left in the first half, Albemarle launched a 73-yard, seven play scoring drive, including long passes to Bennett and Germarcus Sellers to convert two long third-down chances. On first-and-goal at the 5, Blanton found a wide-open Ridenhour for a touchdown pass and a 22-6 lead with just over a minute left in the first half.
South Robeson pulled back to within one score with a 16-play, 61-yard seven-minute drive to open the second half. The Mustangs converted two third downs and a fourth-and-seven at the Bulldog 35 enroute to Hill’s second touchdown run of the night. Quarterback Kalvis Chavis then found Donel McCallum wide open in the endzone for the two-point conversion, narrowing the gap to 22-14 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
The two teams then exchanged fumbles on their next possessions, with the Bulldogs gaining a huge field position advantage at the Mustang 27. Albemarle pushed the ball down to the 2-yard line for a first down as the clock expired in the third.
The Bulldogs then pushed the lead back to two touchdowns when K.J. McKinney scored on fourth-and-goal from the Mustang 1 to put Albemarle up 29-14 with 10:52 left in the game.
South Robeson drove down to the Bulldog 19 on its next possession, but a bad shotgun snap from center ended the threat.
However, turnovers continued to hamper the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter. On three different drives in the quarter, Albemarle ran six offensive plays and fumbled the ball three times, giving the Mustangs the football in Bulldog territory.
Albemarle’s “Oak Tree” defense held South Robeson on one drive and came up with an interception with two minutes left from Terrace Ellis.
After the third fumble lost by Albemarle in the period, the Mustangs scored five plays later when Chavis found Daquinn Lindsay for a touchdown pass. However, the two-point conversion failed, leaving the Bulldogs up 29-20 with 27 seconds left.
Albemarle defensive lineman Lee Autry recovered a South Robeson onside kickoff and the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
Bulldog head coach Seth Smith said the lost fumbles in the game by his squad was “inexcusable” and added, “We are not focused on holding on to the football, and that is unacceptable. ... If we can hold onto the football, we’re a pretty good team; if we don’t, we can stink it up with the best of them.”
Smith also talked about South Robeson’s efforts, saying the Mustangs “are athletic; they have some skill guys that can go and are big up front. We missed tackles and didn’t play well.”
Albemarle will travel to Murphy on Friday night for the regional finals. Murphy claimed a 49-12 win over Hayesville and won the draw for home-field advantage.
Regarding Murphy, Smith said, “We know each other well and have a good feel for what the other’s going to do. It comes down to executing, blocking, tackling, holding on to the football. We can match up with them, but if we don’t do those things, we’ll have a tough night.”
SR 6 0 8 6 20
A 7 15 0 7 29
SR – Andrew Hill 94 run (run failed), 9:47, 1st
A – Robert Mack 24 run (Mason Krol kick), 8:18, 1st
A – Travis Bennett 54 pass from Bryan Blanton (Krol kick), 4:13, 2nd
A – Andre Ridenhour 5 pass from Blanton (McKinney run), 1:01, 2nd
SR – Hill 1 run (Donel McCallum pass from Kalvis Chavis), 4:57, 3rd
A – K.J. McKinney 1 run (Krol kick), 10:52, 4th
SR – Daquinn Lindsay 4 pass from Chavis (run failed), :27, 4th
1st Downs 15 14
Rushing 52-156 41-168
Passing 95 126
C-A-I 6-21-1 5-13-1
Punts 4-25.0 2-39.0
Penalties 7-35 4-30
Fum.-Lst. 6-3 7-6
3rd Down 8-18 4-10
4th Down 1-7 1-3
TOP 29:28 18:32
Rushing: SR – Hill 18-143, 2 TD; Ellerbee 16-51; Chavis 9-10; McCallum 2-1; Lindsay 1-0; Smith 1-(-8); TEAM 5-(-41). A – McKinney 17-82, TD; Blanton 8-10; Mack 7-61, TD; Sellers 4-1; Stanback 3-18; Autry 1-0; TEAM 1-(-4).
Passing: SR – Chavis 6-20, 95 yds., 1 TD, 1 int.; Lindsay 0-1. A – Blanton 5-13, 126 yds., 2 TD, 1 int.
Receiving: SR – Smith 2-40; McCallum 2-31; Roller 1-20; Lindsay 1-4, TD. A – Bennett 2-81, TD; Sellers 1-34; White 1-6; Ridenhour 1-5, TD.