SAND ROCK – The past couple of weeks, the Sand Rock Wildcats have been behind the eight ball early.
On Friday night against Class 2A, Region 7 football rival North Sand Mountain, Wildcat head coach Alan Heath tried to do something about that. Sand Rock won the toss and elected to receive in an effort to put some points on the board early.
It appeared as if that plan may work after Gatlin Cox’s 20-yard run on fake punt on a fourth-down play, but the Bison defense recovered to deny the Wildcats a touchdown on their first drive.
Then it was the same old story Sand Rock.
North Sand Mountain scored three touchdowns on its five first-half possessions and pulled away from the Wildcats in the second half for a 49-13 victory.
“It’s kind of been the tale of the season to be honest,” Heath said. “We’ve shown what we are capable of in bursts, but we’ve never been able to make that something we do consistently. Our consistency hasn’t been there, and that’s my fault for not preparing them well enough to be able to do that.
“There are certain parts where we’re playing decent football, but you’ve got to play in every aspect of the game. We just really haven’t been able to put that together. We did against Cedar Bluff and Section, but other than that, we haven’t really been able to. We moved the ball on them (North Sand Mountain). We punted three or four times, but we moved the ball pretty well.”
North Sand Mountain head coach Keith Kirby said he felt Sand Rock “came out and had a great plan.”
“I know they’ve had a tough road with injuries, but they come out and played hard,” he said. “Hat’s off to them, but hat’s off to our kids too for battling.”
Landon Keller gave the Bison (3-3, 3-1) a 6-0 lead with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Nyle Poore at the end of the first quarter. It looked as if Sand Rock (2-5, 1-3) would answer with a drive inside the Bison 10-yard line, but Ace Ashley’s pass on a first-and-goal at the 7 was intercepted by Kaden Moore in the end zone.
Moore made the Wildcats pay for the turnover just two plays later as he scampered 90 yards for a touchdown. Keller connected with Poore on the 2-point pass for a 14-0 Bison lead.
Sand Rock was able to respond on its ensuing drive when Ashley hit Brian Giles for an 8-yard score. Morgan Tucker’s extra point cut North Sand Mountain’s lead in half at 14-7, but it didn’t stay that way for long.
Four plays later, Keller connected with Poore again for a 33-yard touchdown, and a 20-7 halftime lead.
For the game, Keller was 6-of-14 for 122 yards and three touchdowns. Poore was his top target with four catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bison received the ball to begin the second half and stretched their lead. Kayden Gilley scored on a 4-yard run to cap a 5-play, 64-yard drive. He also caught the ensuing 2-point conversion pass from Keller for a 28-7 lead.
Following a Sand Rock punt, Moore ran for his second touchdown of the night. This one went for 64 yards, and it gave North Sand Mountain a 35-7 edge.
Moore led the Bison running game with 166 yards on just five carries with two touchdowns.
Another Wildcat punt yielded another Bison score. This time, Keller connected with Blake Hill on a 23-yard touchdown pass, which extended North Sand Mountain’s lead to 42-7 with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
Sand Rock finally found the end zone again on an Ashley 6-yard run, but the PAT was blocked to keep the score at 42-13 after three quarters.
Following Ashley’s second interception of the game in the fourth quarter, Bison reserve running back Myles Gottman scored the game’s final touchdown on an 87-yard run with 3:29 left in the game.
Ashley led Sand Rock by completing 11-of-24 pass attempts for 102 yards and a touchdown. He also had a touchdown on the ground.
Cox carried the ball 12 times for 44 yards to lead the Wildcat ground attack. He also caught three passes for 29 yards and had five tackles on defense. Eighth grader Tyde Traffanstedt had an interception near the end of the first half.
“Depth has had a huge impact on us, and a lot guys who played tonight were banged up,” Heath said. “It’s a tough situation, but I don’t think anybody rolled over tonight. We’ve had a lot of injuries, but the ones we had out there, they did play hard. We’ve just got to keep getting better. We’ve got three more opportunities in this regular season to try and get better.”
Sand Rock hosts Fyffe on Friday. North Sand Mountain is at home against Pisgah.