Cedar Bluff’s Leek ‘finds a way’ in overtime win at Gaylesville

Cedar Bluff’s Kade Browning scored on a 67-yard run early in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ game at Gaylesville on Friday night. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

CEDAR BLUFF – Cedar Bluff senior quarterback Bucky Leek says he’s hardheaded.

Even playing on a bum left ankle, Leek wasn’t going to let his teammates down on Friday night at Class 1A, Region 7 football rival Gaylesville.

He certainly didn’t on the game’s final play.

On a fourth-and-goal situation from the 10-yard line in overtime, Leek made something out of nothing. He took the snap, escaped pressure from the Trojan defense, and found junior receiver Eli McFry on his left side for the game-tying touchdown pass. Carter Dillingham’s extra point provided the Tigers with a thrilling 29-28 victory.

“I’m going to find some way,” Leek said.

And find a way he did.

Leek said the game-winning play, called boot at 8, was intended to go to the right side, but nothing was there. But he scanned to his left and found a wide-open McFry for the score.

It was McFry’s only catch of the game.

“Me and Bucky have been together forever, and that’s just what we do, outside in the yard, outside at PE,” McFry said. “That’s what it came down to. The play broke over. I shot off to the left and he saw me like he always does. The play was supposed to go all the way to the right side of the field. The play broke down, then Bucky scrambled and went left and I was open.

“We took a shot earlier in the game. We didn’t connect on it, but we just kept grinding, kept pushing the ball. I knew my time was coming.”

Cedar Bluff coach Alan Beckett said the Tigers feel like Leek is “a Lamar Jackson kind of guy.”

“He extends plays,” Beckett said. “We have spots on the field that (the receivers) are to go to, and we found one. We felt like we could throw the ball, but they did a good job getting a pass rush on us.

“That was a heck of a play by Bucky Leek. He had a bad ankle. We thought we’d lost him for the game, but that’s just a love for your school. That’s gutsy right there to come back because he’s dragging a leg like the walking dead or something and throws one across the field. He’s got that special ‘it’ and he made the play. People rally around him. Our community rallies around him. He’s that guy.”

Leek also ran 85 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries for the Tigers (3-1, 2-0), including a 3-yard score with 6:31 to go in the first half that help tie the game at 8-8. He added another 3-yard touchdown run with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter that gave Cedar Bluff a 15-14 lead.

It was on his second rushing touchdown that Leek said someone landed on his ankle in the end zone. It wasn’t until overtime that he came back in the game.

In Leek’s absence, senior running back Kade Browning stepped up.

After Gaylesville (0-3, 0-2) regained the lead at 22-15 on a Keylon Higgins 8-yard touchdown with 10:18 to go in the fourth quarter, Browning dashed 67 yards on the Tiger offense’s ensuing play for a touchdown. Dillingham’s extra point tied the game at 22, which ultimately was the score at the end of regulation.

Browning led all rushers with 177 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown.

“We had to be creative in ways to get him the ball,” Beckett said. “We just tried to find a way for him to break one. They (Gaylesville’s defense) did a good job though. I thought he grinded and grinded and grinded. That was big.”

Browning agreed the game was a grind.

“It’s a rival game, and they’re going to play their hardest,” he said. “It’s a big game for them. It’s a big game for us. They were pumped up and they were ready, but like Coach Beckett says, we just have to push through adversity. That’s what we had to do tonight.”

Both teams had their chances to win it late in regulation, but turnovers and defensive stops prevented them both from scoring.

Cedar Bluff won the toss in overtime and elected to go on defense. The Trojans scored on their overtime possession on a third-down Tanner Eads 7-yard pass to freshman Kuper Bradley to go up 28-22.

“He just ran a corner route and made a big-time catch in a big-time moment,” Gaylesville coach Brian Knapp said. “I think he’s going to be a pretty good player for us when it’s all said and done.”

Eads then connected with Kyler Bradley on the ensuing 2-point conversion pass play, but he fumbled the ball before he could reach the end zone.

That set up Cedar Bluff’s crack at the end zone. Three straight Browning rushes yielded just a yard, setting up Leek’s fourth-down magic.

“He made a play,” Knapp said of Leek. “He’s hard to tackle in space.”

Knapp devised a ball-control game plan that was effective against the Tigers, particularly in the first half.

Following a scoreless first quarter, the Trojans struck first on Higgins’ 6-yard touchdown run with 10:11 to go in the first half. Higgins also ran in for the 2-point conversion, giving Gaylesville an 8-0 advantage.

After Leek’s first touchdown and Browning’s 2-point conversion tied the game, Higgins killed another potential Tiger scoring drive by intercepting a Leek pass deep inside Cedar Bluff territory. Two plays later, Higgins ran in for a 6-yard score. His 2-point rush fell short, but Gaylesville held a 14-8 advantage at halftime.

Higgins led the Trojans with 120 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns.

“He kept us in the game,” Knapp said of Higgins. “He has grown up quite a bit. In the past, he would’ve kind of found a way to the sideline, but he stayed with it tonight and made some big plays.”

But the Trojans fell just one big play short of ending their nine-game skid against the Tigers.

“For once, we finally controlled the ball a little bit,” Knapp said. “I’ve always said if we can control the ball we’re going to have a chance. I made some changes on offense, and I think it helped us tonight. I thought our kids played with tremendous emotion. This is one of those games I don’t have to say a whole lot. They’re going to be fired up when they play. That was one of those games you really hated to see anybody get beat.

“You have to give credit to both sets of kids, and that’s what I told them in the end. Nobody should hang their hat. It came down to one play. They just made one more play than we did.”

Gaylesville’s Keylon Higgins bulldozes his way into the end zone Friday night against Cedar Bluff. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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