By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
CEDAR BLUFF – Cedar Bluff senior defensive back Eli McFry said the Tigers got down on themselves early in last week’s game against Winterboro and they never recovered in a 26-point loss.
On Friday night at county rival Sand Rock, the Tigers once again found themselves down early, but this time they picked themselves back up.
McFry was a huge part of that.
With Cedar Bluff trailing by a touchdown late in the first half, McFry intercepted an Alec Ashley pass that was tipped in the air. McFry caught the ball and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. Carter Dillingham’s extra point tied the game, switching momentum to the Tigers’ side.
“I was pretty shocked they threw it honestly,” McFry said. “I just dropped back and made sure nothing got behind me. It just tipped off his (the receiver’s) hands and nobody was there. There was nobody near me.
“It definitely gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime. It hyped everybody up. It got us going.”
Not satisfied with just making that one play, McFry made another pick of Ashley late in the fourth quarter. This one led to an Alex Baty 43-yard touchdown run with 3:33 remaining, a score that sealed the Tigers’ 28-7 victory and the first win in new Cedar Bluff head coach Garrett Crane’s tenure.
“Anytime you get a turnover it’s a big deal,” Crane said. “We really wanted to capitalize there (at the end of the first half) and punch it in. It was a matter of inches right there. Getting points off of turnovers, we preach about that. Turnovers are important, and at that point, we capitalized.”
Up until McFry’s first interception, the Wildcats (0-2) had almost completely controlled the first half. On its opening drive of the game, Sand Rock ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock. The end result of a 15-play, 70-yard drive was Ashley’s 6-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Cam Gifford. Morgan Tucker’s extra point provided the Wildcats with a 7-0 lead.
Cedar Bluff (1-1) put together a substantial drive of its own in the second quarter, marching all the way down to the Wildcat 1-yard line. Faced with a 4th-and-goal, Sand Rock’s defense forced Tiger senior quarterback Kaden Pack to scramble after a fumbled snap. His throw was completed just short of the end zone, turning the ball over to Sand Rock with 1:32 remaining in the first half.
Three straight runs put the ball the Sand Rock 12, which gave the Wildcats a first down. Ashley dropped back to pass, but the ball was tipped into McFry’s awaiting arms.
“The turnover before the half was 100 percent my fault. I’ll take the complete blame on that,” Sand Rock coach Alan Heath said. “That kind of shifted the trajectory. Even though we only had them 7-0, we had them feeling Sand Rock is a little better than we thought. That really changed the momentum of the ball game right there.”
After McFry’s interception return for a score, the Wildcats made another miscue on the ensuing kickoff. The Tigers’ Jordan Taylor recovered a fumble at the Wildcat 23 with two seconds left in the half. Carter Dillingham lined up for a 39-yard field goal attempt, but his kick missed the mark, sending the two teams into halftime tied at 7.
Cedar Bluff opened the third quarter with the ball and scored on a 31-yard Hunter Stallings-to-Caleb Edmondson touchdown pass. Dillingham’s extra point gave Cedar Bluff its first lead at 14-7.
Stallings lined up behind center after Pack was knocked out earlier on the drive following a 21-yard completion to Edmondson.
Edmondson caught another touchdown pass with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter – this one from Pack from 22 yards that put the Tigers up 21-7.
Two plays after that, McFry made his second interception, which led to Baty’s 43-yard touchdown run to ice the game and earn Crane his first win.
“All the credit goes to our boys for executing and to my coaches. They put in just as much work as I do,” Crane said. “I had a vision and they did their best to implement it. All the credit goes to them.”
“Coach Crane is a really good coach. He’s really brought the Cedar Bluff tradition back,” McFry said. “I’m proud of him and he’s proud of us. I’m glad he’s our coach and all my teammates are too.”
Baty led the Tiger ground game with 94 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Pack complete all six of his pass attempts for 72 yards. Stallings completed his lone pass for a 31-yard touchdown to Edmondson, who finished with four catches for 79 yards and two scores.
Ashley connected on 12-of-24 pass attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown. Gavynn Cunningham caught four passes for 55 yards. Gatlin Cox hauled in five passes for 37 yards. He also led Sand Rock’s ground game with 27 yards on seven carries.
Cedar Bluff opens Class 1A, Region 7 play at Woodville on Friday. Sand Rock is at Pisgah in a Class 2A, Region 7 clash.
“A lot of their success was off of our mistakes, but they are things we can watch film on and fix,” Heath said. “Anybody who actually watches us play can see we are getting better. Are the results where we want them? Not even close, but we are getting better. We have to understand every opportunity we have to get better we have to take. We can’t pout about (losing). We can’t be upset about it. We just have to push forward and try to get ready to play.”