Whatever it was, the Bulldogs want to see a lot more of it the rest of the year.
One week after a region loss Bullock called “demoralizing,” Anniston put to use the lessons of a hard week in practice and overwhelmed Handley 41-13 in a non-region Class 4A game.
Thomas scored three different ways and had four touchdowns total. Anniston's defense collected five takeaways.
“We challenged our players,” Bullock said. “I challenged them all during the week because last week we kind of got knocked around. To me it was demoralizing. I can take a loss as long as I know we gave 100 percent, but I don’t think we gave 100 percent. We had guys who laid down. I basically challenged them to not quit and practice was indicative of that
“We had a full-scale all-out war during the week and we’re going to do it again this week. We’ve got players capable of making those plays, but we can’t be up one week and down another week, and I just challenged them to it. I told them I was tired of excuses. I wanted to see some productivity. I’m ecstatic they stepped up to the challenge.”
Big plays were on order for the Bulldogs (3-2), and Thomas had most of them.
He scored on runs of 90 and 46 yards, a 61-yard punt return and a 31-yard pass from Quint Dobbins.
The 90-yard touchdown run through a big hole opened by Raekwon Billingsley came just a few minutes after Donovan Lucas opened the scoring on a 75-yard sprint on Anniston’s first play from scrimmage.
“It was just focus,” Thomas said. “I just came in wanting to play. I wanted to give me and my team a win.
“Everybody doubted us about a win tonight, so we just pulled one out.”
The punt return almost didn’t happen as he barely caught the ball on his fingertips.
“Concentration, that’s all it was. I stayed focused with the ball,” he said. “It was real close. If I wouldn’t have caught it, I know coach would’ve been mad and I’d have been mad.”
The touchdown catch was the result of some mad scrambling. Dobbins got flushed from the pocket and Thomas knocked off his route. Both scrambled to make something happen before finding each other.
Thomas finished with 182 yards rushing and two catches for 48 yards more.
Finding the end zone three different ways in the same game was reminiscent of another renowned Bulldog – Jacksonville State sophomore running back Troymaine Pope.
“DeMarcus is a Troymaine Pope-type back without the size,” Bullock said. “He’s as fast, he’s as quick, he’s as elusive and he definitely has the football IQ.
“My challenge to them is to let their natural ability come out. I can devise a game plan, but that game plan is ineffective if we don’t executive what we do in practice. I don’t like to coach chaos on the sideline. I want to do what we do in practice and be really good at what we do.
“We hadn’t beaten this team in like five tries and we hadn’t because they just played smarter than us. It wasn’t they were so much physically better than us (in those years), it was which team had less penalties and executed their offense better and we did that.”
Handley (2-3) did compile 313 yards of offense in its homecoming game, but the Tigers had five turnovers -- three in the red zone.
Jerreion Williams scored both of the Tigers' touchdowns, on runs of 1 and 53 yards in the first half. He had Malik Meadows both rushed for more than 100 yards.
“We had a lot of positive things we did well, we just couldn’t hold onto the football,” Handley coach Mike Battles said.
But in the end a determined Anniston team simply was just too fast.
“Speed kills -- we couldn’t catch them,” Battles said. “When they got past the second level it was pretty much a footrace.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577