They say that football is a game of inches and it was inches that clinched the playoff spot for Jacksonville when an extra point attempt by the Cubs in the second overtime bounced off the right upright and gave the Golden Eagles the narrow victory.
It was only fitting that the victory was won by such a narrow margin in a region that has been tight and very competitive all season.
Only Munford, who went undefeated in Region play, knew it would be playing in postseason. When the rest of the teams started play on Friday night, Lincoln and Jacksonville were tied for second with 4-2 region records and Alexandria, Cleburne County and Anniston all had identical 3-3 records.
The win for Jacksonville gave them a second place finish.
Despite the cold, with temperatures in the mid-40’s, Jacksonville started out hot. Starting on their own 35-yard line after the kickoff, it took the Golden Eagles only three plays to score. Dominique Thomas took the ball for a one-yard gain, then senior quarterback Jackson Bell ran for five yards. On the next play of the game Thomas took the ball around the left end and scrambled 59-yards for the first score of the game.
Thomas would be the workhorse for the Eagles all night, scoring all three touchdowns and rushing for 174 yards on 27 attempts.
The extra point by Mason Tompkins was good and the Eagles went up 7-0 with only 1:13 gone in the first quarter.
The Cubs got on the board with a field goal from the 20-yard line by Gabe Marchal.
With time running out in the first half, a Jacksonville drive stalled at the Cub 22-yard line. Tompkins was called upon for the field goal and the kick sailed through the uprights giving the Eagles the 10-7 halftime lead.
It didn’t take the Cubs long to tie up the score in the third quarter. Taking over on their own 30-yard line, a pass from quarterback Luke Tucker to Marchal gave the Cubs the ball at their own 42. Two running plays took the Cubs to the Jacksonville 41. With third and five facing the Cubs, Tucker found Derrick Turner racing down the sidelines for a 41-yard touchdown pass. The extra point by Marchal was good and the score was tied 10-10 with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter.
The Cubs took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 19-yard run by Alton Davis. With the extra point Alexandria went up 17-10.
The Cub touchdown seemed to have energized the Eagles. Facing a third and 13 from the 50-yard line, Bell hit Sid Thurmond for a first down to the 40. After a couple of runs by Thomas the Eagles were faced with a fourth and five from the Cub 35 yard line.
Electing to go for it, Bell went back to pass and was chased out of the pocket. Coming back across the field Bell found Payton Sims for a first down to the 22-yard line. Bell, who was 8-for-14 for 90 yards, hit Sims moments later to the 15, and then it was Thomas running the ball in for the score. The extra point by Tompkins tied up the score at 17-17.
With the score deadlocked at the end of regulation, the teams went into overtime. Alexandria had the ball first but a pass to the end zone was intercepted by Sims.
Jacksonville was able to move the ball to the six-yard line but they were stopped there. A field goal attempt was blocked by Alexandria and the teams went into a second overtime.
It took Jacksonville only one play to score as a determined Thomas ran the ball around the right end 10-yards for the Eagle score. Tompkins kick was good and all the pressure was on the Cubs.
Alexandria was able to score the touchdown but the kick for the extra point was just inches too wide and Jacksonville had a 24-23, playoff bound win.
Thomas said that the seniors had talked to the younger players before the game. “We told the younger guys that they could say we still have next year but for the seniors this could have been our last time playing on this field.
“They (Cubs) came out in the second half and they had the momentum and we knew we had to get back in it.”
Jacksonville Head Coach Clint Smith was obviously elated with the win. “This was a hard fought game,” said Smith. “Going into the night there were four teams tied for second and third place. Everybody had their backs against the wall.
“Hats off to Coach Tucker and his team. They came out and fought and fought. I can’t say enough about our kids stepping up and making plays when we had to make them.
“When we had the field goal blocked there was a shift in momentum. We got together and said, “This is what we work for and this is why we do everything we do. Now is the time to pick it up.”
“I can’t say enough about our kids and their resiliency and the steps they have made.”
Jacksonville will finish their regular season on the road at Saks this Friday night.