Anniston’s homecoming theme proved appropriate Friday night, as the Bulldogs kept their playoff hopes alive with a 33-7 victory over Hokes Bluff at Lott-Mosby Memorial Stadium.
The win puts Anniston (5-3, 3-3) in a three-way tie with Cleburne County and Alexandria for the fourth and final playoff spot in Class 4A, Region 5.
“That’s the only way we could do it,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said when asked about staying in the playoff hunt. “We couldn’t afford another loss, and we’re still on the outside looking in.”
The Bulldogs were led by their stout defense, which turned three first-half fumble recoveries into 21 points.
As Hokes Bluff quarterback Tanner Williams dropped to pass during the Eagles’ first possession, the ball slipped out of his hands. Anniston’s Raekwon Billingsley came up with the recovery, setting the Bulldogs up on the Eagles’ 18-yard line.
Running back DeMarcus Thomas picked up a big third-down conversion with a 14-yard run before carrying the ball into the end zone from 5 yards out on the next play. The first of three successful first-half extra points from Quint Dobbins put Anniston up 7 with 7:54 to go in the first quarter.
Hokes Bluff put the ball on the ground again early in the second quarter. Running back Christian Beggs coughed it up and Anniston’s Tedarius Smith was there to gobble it up at the Eagles’ 27-yard line.
Thomas opened the ensuing drive with a 14-yard carry to set up the Bulldogs’ second score of the night.
On the next play from scrimmage, wide receiver Qua Frazier used his size to out-jump two Hokes Bluff defenders and come down with a 13-yard touchdown reception from Dobbins, putting Anniston up 14 with 10:04 left in the half.
Tevin Davis scooped up another Eagles’ fumble late in the second quarter, carrying the ball all the way down to the Hokes Bluff 6-yard line. Thomas scored his second touchdown of the night on the next play, giving the Bulldogs a 21-point lead heading into the locker room.
Thomas finished with 82 yards rushing on 17 carries and had a 75-yard kickoff return to open the contest.
Anniston’s defense also came away with two interceptions as the Bulldogs finished the game with five forced turnovers. Smith came up with an interception just before halftime, and Deontae Brown picked off a pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Of the turnovers, Bullock said they were important.
“The defense has actually been solid for about the last three games, and that’s the reason we have been able to stay in games,” Bullock said.
Dobbins threw two touchdown passes in the second half to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 33. He found Darius Carter open in the flat on a short pass to the left sideline, and Carter did the rest, sprinting all the way across the field on his way to a 61-yard score.
Dobbins found Damonta Miller open in the end zone on his final pass of the night, a 30-yard strike off of a play-action fake with 1:45 to go in the third quarter. Dobbins finished the game 5-for-11 for 141 yards and three scores.
Running back Donovan Lucas made the most of his limited workload, finishing with four carries for 55 yards.
Hokes Bluff halted the Bulldogs’ attempt at a shutout when Williams found Phillip Ward on a 14-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Anniston hits the road next week to take on region champion Munford in a game that could make or break the Bulldogs’ playoff chances.
“It’s extremely big,” Bullock said. “If we win, we’re in, I believe. And if we lose, we’re out. I’m a firm believer that that’s it. There’s no other way to put it.”