“It’s a game that we want to play for a region championship but it’s not a do-or-die either. When you’re playing for a region championship you’ve put yourself in a pretty good position,” Ranburne head coach Chad Young said. “I’m proud of them.”
A win over Fultondale won’t come easily. The Wildcats have the team to go with their gaudy 8-0 overall record and 6-0 chart in Region 6.
“They run the ball offensively most of the time,” Young said of Fultondale. “The quarterback runs well. When they throw it, if the pocket breaks down he’ll pull the ball down and run real well. They don’t make many mistakes. In a lot of ways, they’re simple but that kind of keeps them from making mistakes. They don’t try to do anything they can’t do. They don’t beat themselves.”
“They’re big. A lot of them are the same linemen that they played last year. They have several that are 6-3, 6-4, 270 and they have a lot of skill people,” Young added.
When Ranburne has the ball, Young expects to see a four-man front and a lot of man-to-man coverage in the secondary.
The Bulldogs need to put last Friday’s bitter, last-minute 29-26 loss to visiting Wellborn behind them. After trailing the Panthers 21-14 at halftime, Ranburne rallied for two touchdowns in the second half before Wellborn tallied the game-winning score with 41 seconds to play.
“When we play Fultondale, regardless of what happens, we’re not going to be able to pin it back on what happened last week. … It’s going to come down to what we do Friday night not what we did last Friday night,” Young said.
Ranburne went three-and-out on the initial possession of the game and a deflected punt gave Wellborn the ball at the Ranburne 47-yard line. Seven plays later, the Panthers led 7-0 with 7:23 left in the first quarter.
Fifty-eight seconds into the second quarter, Donovan Tullis blocked a Wellborn punt, recovered the loose ball and scored. Jake Howle’s kick made it 7-all.
The next Wellborn possession lasted just two plays as G.W. Caldwell forced a fumble and Dalton Wiggins recovered to the Bulldogs at the Wellborn 17. Three running plays gained eight yards. On fourth down, Wellborn held for no gain.
“We didn’t play good in the first half offensively. We couldn’t find anything to hang our hat on. That hurt us down there when we got the turnover deep in their territory and we didn’t score,” Young said.
It hurt even more when Wellborn’s Chantz Goodman cleared the line of scrimmage on the next play and never slowed. The 91-yard run put Wellborn up 14-7 with 8:08 left in the half.
Ranburne responded immediately.
After a blitz dropped quarterback Dylan Wiggins for an 8-yard loss, Wiggins threw a middle screen to Dylan Tulllis that Tullis turned into a 41-yard gain. Three plays later, the pair combined again. This time a shuffle pass went for 36 yards and a score. Howle made it 14 apiece with 5:59 to go in the half.
Wellborn’s third touchdown came on a 54-yard pass with 2:39 to play before halftime.
The Bulldogs got to a first-and-10 at the Wellborn 17 with 24 seconds left. On third down from the 11 with five seconds left, Wiggins was swarmed under by a big rush and never had a chance to throw.
The third quarter opened with Wellborn punting then Ranburne punting then Wellborn punting again as neither team was able to muster a first down. Kyle Lovvorn returned Wellborn’s second punt 14 yards to the Wellborn 36. Two runs by Dylan Tullis totaled 13 yards. On fourth down at the 15, Wiggins threw to Brayden Wilson in the back of the end zone. The score came with 4:35 to go in the third quarter. The kick was low but Ranburne trailed just 21-20.
Wellborn got two first downs, one on consecutive 5-yard penalties against the Bulldogs, before punting again. Ranburne gained one first down then punted after a holding penalty. Wellborn was three-and-out again and Ranburne took over at the Ranburne 37 with 9:39 on the clock.
On third-and-12, Wiggins got the corner at right end and ran for 15 yards. Tullis ran for 11 yards and Brady Whittle followed with a 14-yard gain.
From the Wellborn 25, four consecutive carries by Tullis created a third-and-goal at the 6. Wiggins, who had missed his four previous throws, once again found Wilson in the back of the end zone. A 2-point conversion run by Lovvorn was ruled short but Ranburne led 26-21 with 5:47 to play.
Wellborn’s ensuing possession ended with an interception by Dylan Wiggins from his safety spot on defense.
Three running plays took about two minutes off the clock but left the Bulldogs two yards short of a first down at the Ranburne 46. Wiggins’ punt rolled dead at the Wellborn 17 with exactly 2:30 on the clock. At that point, Wellborn had 28 net yards rushing for the second half with an interception on the Panthers’ only pass attempt.
“(Not playing well on offense in the first half) hurt us as far as getting any momentum but then we got it back in the second half because we were playing well on defense,”
Young said. “That’s why I elected not to go for it there with about 2:30 to go in the game and we punted knowing that if we could get two yards there at midfield we probably could run the clock out. I didn’t want to give them the ball at the 50-yard line either.”
“If we had been swapping scores the whole second half, kind of like we did the first half, it would have been easier to go for it but they’d been sitting on 21 since halftime,” he added.
The Bulldogs stopped a first down run for no gain. On second down, Zach Patterson sacked Wellborn quarterback Landon Machristie for a 4-yard loss. On third down, Machristie threw to seldom-used tight end Corri Tignor and Tignor out-jumped the defense for just enough distance for a first down.
“We were in position. …If we knock the ball down the game’s over basically. I don’t know what else we could have done any different,” Young said.
Three consecutive completions followed for another 68 yards, two to Tignor. On first-and-goal from the Ranburne 3, Machristie’s quarterback sneak made it 27-26 with 41 seconds left and the Panthers ran for a 2-point conversion.
Dylan Wiggins was 15-for-24 passing for 181 yards. Dylan Tullis finished with seven receptions for 119 yards and ran 20 times for an additional 95 yards.
Lovvorn caught four passes for 41 yards. Wilson finished with the two touchdown receptions. Whittle ran five times for 25 yards.