Coosa Valley wins first playoff game since 1993

Coosa Valley Academy hadn’t played in a playoff football game since 2002, and hadn’t won a game in the playoffs since 1993.

The Rebels (8-3) made the most of their return to the party, picking up a 27-22 win over Restoration Academy on the Bessemer Academy campus Thursday in the opening game of the Alabama Independent Schools Association Class 1A playoffs.

The win marked the Rebels’ first playoff victory since a 27-0 win over Grove Hill Academy in 1993.

John Bullen zig-zagged in a chaotic pattern before taking a knee to run the final five seconds off the clock on fourth down. He then zig-zagged across the field with his teammates in celebration.

“It’s a really big accomplishment for us,” said Bullen, who transferred to Coosa Valley with his brother Will over the summer.

Bullen played the biggest role in the Coosa Valley win, as he finished with 284 yards of total offense. Bullen racked up 252 yards on kickoff and punt returns, including an 88-yard punt return and an 80-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

“I noticed (Restoration Academy) took its best players out of the game on special teams,” Bullen said. “I’ve got to give all of my credit to my blockers. They made the holes and I just followed them.”

Coosa Valley head coach Vince DiLorenzo praised his special teams’ players for their effort, especially the fact that the Rebels didn’t have any penalty yards on kick or punt returns.

“(Restoration Academy) does a good job of protecting and snapping,” DiLorenzo said. “I knew we had to set up a return to make a play. John Bullen is a special player. You’ve got to have someone special back there to take advantage of it. Everyone did their job.”

Coosa Valley started strong in the first quarter, forcing Restoration Academy to punt on its first possession. The Rebels utilized good field position at the Bulldogs’ 37-yard line, capping a six-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by Will Bullen. Cody Garrett added the extra point to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 7:53 left in the opening quarter.

Restoration Academy responded with a 15-yard touchdown pass and a successful 2-point conversion with 3:45 left in the first quarter to take an 8-7 lead over the Rebels.

Coosa Valley regained the lead midway through the second quarter following John Bullen’s first return for a touchdown. Bullen returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown and Garrett added the extra point to give the Rebels a 14-8 lead with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

The Bulldogs scored on a 3-yard run and a quarterback keeper for the 2-point conversion with 14 seconds left in the second quarter to take a 16-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.

John Bullen opened the second half with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Garrett added the extra point to give the Rebels a 21-16 lead 19 seconds into the second half. Restoration responded with a 5-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to take a 22-21 lead. However, the Bulldogs couldn’t convert on a 2-point pass play with 11:41 left in the fourth quarter and held on to a one-point lead for most of the fourth quarter.

The Rebels took advantage on their final drive. Following a 25-yard punt return by John Bullen, the Rebels capped an eight-play, 42-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Phillip Neal. Ellison couldn’t get into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, but the damage was already done as Coosa Valley took a 27-22 lead with 2:52 remaining in the game.

The Rebels forced three incomplete passes on Restoration Academy’s final drive, which allowed Coosa Valley to run the clock out.

DiLorenzo said he had confidence in his team, despite its lack of playoff experience.

“I knew coming (to the game) I was going to drive home sad or happy,” DiLorenzo said. “I knew we would have to play a great game for me to drive home happy. Somehow our guys find a way to win.”

Neal completed 4-of-10 passes for 32 yards in the win. Ricky Ellison rushed for 68 yards on 10 carries. Tanner Wood caught one pass for 22 yards.

John Bullen led the defense with 12 tackles. Zaid Kayyali added 10 tackles and Ellison added nine tackles.

Coosa Valley will face Crenshaw Christian School in the second round of the AISA Class 1A playoffs Nov. 13. The Rebels fell 21-7 to Crenshaw Christian on Oct. 16.