They were the ones who would run the ball effectively.
They were the ones who would connect on the timely passes.
They were the ones who would come up with the big defensive plays.
On Friday night in the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs, all of that was swept away by the visiting Pickens County Tornadoes.
Behind a 286-yard rushing performance from Jemarcus Brown, No. 8 Pickens County ended the fifth-ranked Tigers’ season at 10-1 with a 34-0 victory.
The result marked the first time the Tigers were shut out in a game since a 7-0 loss at Appalachian in 2008, also a second round playoff contest.
Pickens County (10-2) advances to next Friday’s quarterfinal round where it will host Berry (8-4).
“We knew coming in they had a lot of physical ability on their defensive and offensive lines. They took the game over a little bit,” Cedar Bluff coach Jonathan McWhorter said. “That’s something for most of the year that we were able to do. I felt like we were a little deficient in our run game tonight. We lean on that pretty heavily. We’re probably averaging 40 or 50 carries a game. I don’t know how many we had tonight, but it wasn’t enough to be successful.
“Their defensive line gave us a lot of problems. Their offensive line, I thought, came off and established a pretty good level of physicality too. On top of that, their secondary and their receivers gave us some problems too.”
Another problem the Tigers had to contend with was not being able to use the services of stalwart senior lineman Skylar Cagle.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association suspended Cagle late Wednesday afternoon following an investigation of last week’s post-game fight with Phillips of Bear Creek.
McWhorter said the team learned of Cagle’s suspension by a phone call around 5 p.m. that afternoon.
“Obviously, we had some issues from last Friday night, but you can’t dwell on things you can’t control,” McWhorter said. “That’s what we talked about all week. We truly had to move on with what happened, whether we agreed with whatever happened or didn’t agree. We still had to play a game tonight. Our kids responded pretty well, knowing we had to move on and that we had to prepare for a game. I thought our kids did that well. I didn’t think that was a big distraction tonight and we were ready to play.”
Brown got his motor running on the Tornadoes’ second possession. He ran eight times on the 12-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in Darrien Latham’s 6-yard touchdown run that put Pickens County on top 7-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter.
Following a Tiger punt, Brown electrified the field with his 93-yard touchdown jolt, giving the Tornadoes a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“Jamarcus has been playing like that for us all year, but it all starts up front with our offensive line,” Pickens County coach Patrick Plott said. “Our offensive line did a great job blocking. Once we get our running backs in space, we feel like we’ve always got a chance to score.”
Cedar Bluff appeared to have its first break of the game when a Devonte Simon pass sputtered through the air and into the arms of Tiger senior DeAngelo Hardy. However, the pass slipped through Hardy’s hands and fell incomplete, but it did force Pickens County to punt.
Three plays later, Cedar Bluff senior quarterback Levi Mintz tossed the first of three interceptions in the game. This one proved costly, as Simon dashed 82 yards for the touchdown. The Tigers’ Nick Combs blocked the extra point, but the Tornadoes held a commanding 20-0 lead with 9:13 left in the first half.
“I felt like we helped them out on a couple of things in the first half,” McWhorter said. “We dropped two potential touchdown passes. We dropped an interception that might have gone for a touchdown. You can always say ifs and buts and all that, but they obviously made some plays.”
The Tornadoes appeared to be heading in for another touchdown just before the end of the first half. They marched inside the Tiger 25-yard line, but senior defensive back Alex Hairston picked off Simon and dashed down to the Pickens County 25 as time expired.
Cedar Bluff couldn’t muster much on its first possession of the second half, but Combs recovered a Simon fumble to set the Tigers offense up again near midfield.
However, the offense sputtered again and turned the ball over on downs.
Hardy picked off Simon late in the third quarter deep inside Tiger territory, but Simon gained possession back for his team by picking off Mintz on the Tigers’ next series. It was his third pick of the game.
“He’s been one of our leaders all year long on offense, defense and special teams,” Plott said of Simon. “We expect that out of him.”
Mintz finished the game completing 14 of 33 pass attempts for 143 yards. His top target was senior receiver Rickey Pendley, who caught six passes for 78 yards.
Mintz’s third interception led to Latham’s second score of the game – this one a 1-yard touchdown run that put Pickens out in front 27-0.
The Tornadoes’ William Stewart capped the game’s scoring on a 6-yard run with 1:04 left in the fourth.
The loss by Tigers marked the end of the road for 16 seniors. McWhorter said he’s proud of all they’ve accomplished.
“Those 16 guys have put a lot of time and a lot of effort into what we’ve been doing here,” he said. “I’m just so proud of them for who they are as young men. We’re all disappointed we didn’t win the game tonight, but it’s like I tell them all the time, if the only thing they learn from this is football, then I’ve not done my job. I’m so proud of the young men they are, the character they have and the heart they have.”