They rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 13:43 to beat Cleburne County 28-24 on Friday in a game that muddied the race behind Class 4A, Region 5 leader Munford.
The dramatic win came after Alexandria lost two games in a row by a combined score of 70-0. But the Valley Cubs cranked up Alexandria ground-and-pound football and saved their season.
“We’ve been preaching that we’ve still got a chance at the playoffs,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “We just come off playing two real good teams, and we didn’t play that well.
“There’s still a lot of football to be played. There were some upsets tonight. Our goal is to get in the playoffs.”
Coming off losses of 34-0 to Saks and 36-0 to Munford, Alexandria (3-4) picked itself up and forced a four-way tie for second place in the region. The Valley Cubs, Cleburne County, Jacksonville and Lincoln all are 3-2 in region play after Friday’s action.
Of the teams in the four-way tie, Alexandria has beaten Cleburne County and will play at Lincoln and Jacksonville over the next two weeks.
Cleburne County (5-2) just lost to Alexandria and also will play Jacksonville and Lincoln over the next two weeks.
“There’s about six teams vying for four (playoff) spots,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said, including Anniston, which is 2-3 in region play after beating Cherokee County on Friday. “I’m sure it’s going to come right down to the wire each week.
“Of course, we know that. It’s been that way the last three years.”
Cleburne County nearly grabbed sole possession of second place on the strength of three long runs Friday — Brandon Horn’s 85-yard run to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter and Trey Bolton runs of 61 and 47 yards on consecutive carries to put the Tigers up 24-16 with 1:43 left in the third quarter.
Bolton finished with 119 yards on eight carries, and Horn had 90 on three. Their three touchdown runs accounted for 193 of Cleburne County’s 229 rushing yards and 281 total yards.
But the Tigers might have scored too fast — twice on one-play drives and once on a two-play drive.
They wound up running just 27 offensive plays to Alexandria’s 70 and managed just four first downs.
Alexandria mounted 21 first downs. The Valley Cubs had three nine-play scoring drives and spread 57 yards over 13 plays on another scoring drive.
They spread the ball among five ballcarriers. Alton Davis led four running backs, rushing for 102 yards on 17 carries, but Jacob Heathcock added 61 yards on 15 runs. Austin Wells had 52 yards on nine carries, and Gabe Marchal added 43 yards on 11 runs.
When the Valley Cubs got behind 24-16, they went heavily to Davis on the right side.
“They did what they’d done all night,” Shortt said. “They’d been running the football. They run three plays.
“They ran the football well. Give them credit — their back was against the wall, and they did what they had to do to win. It wasn’t no secret.”
Alexandria quarterback Luke Tucker said the Valley Cubs “just kept running the same play over and over and over, and it kept on working.”
Frank Tucker, Luke’s dad and Alexandria’s long-time offensive coordinator under previous head coach Larry Ginn, said the play is a fixture in his playbook.
“It’s a play we’ve been running for 20 years,” he said. “It just happened to work tonight.
“It wasn’t nothing fancy. It’s just that we executed. Our line blocked great, and our backs ran well.”
Alexandria came within 24-22 on Luke Tucker’s 1-yard sneak at 9:56 of the fourth quarter, capping a drive of nine straight Valley Cub runs.
Their next drive featured another nine straight runs, including six in a row by Davis. His 20-yard run got Alexandria to the Cleburne County 12-yard line, and Wells capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run with 3:40 to play.
Cleburne County had two possessions after that. Marchal intercepted backup quarterback Christian Henson’s pass on the first Tiger snap after Alexandria took the lead, but Alexandria went three-and-out after getting the ball on Cleburne County’s 43.
Henson, who came on in relief when starter Brady Padgett sustained an ankle injury, led one last, dramatic drive starting with his 40-yard pass to Jeremiah Blake helped the Tigers move to Alexandria’s 20, but Horn dropped Henson’s pass on fourth-and-six.
Luke Tucker took a knee to kill the remaining 20 seconds.
Marchal had a big night besides his interception, rushing for a 2-yard touchdown and kicking a 20-yard field goal that put Alexandria up 16-10 in the third quarter.
Luke Tucker completed seven of 11 passes for 74 yards on the night. He completed his first five passes.
“This gives us tons of momentum,” Luke Tucker said. “I’m talking about tons of momentum.
“There’s going to be better practices and more confidence going into the next game.”