Montevallo rolls in lightning-shortened jamboree

Caleb Cottingham sheds a pair of Verbena blockers during Montevallo’s jamboree matchup on Aug. 19. The Bulldogs beat Verbena 27-7 in a lightning-shortened game. (For the Reporter / Dawn Harrison)

Caleb Cottingham sheds a pair of Verbena tacklers during Montevallo’s jamboree matchup on Aug. 18. The Bulldogs beat Verbena 27-7 in a lightning-shortened game. (For the Reporter / Dawn Harrison)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – The 2016 football season got started with a literal and metaphorical bang for Montevallo on Aug. 18. The Bulldogs welcomed in the Verbena Red Devils for some preseason football action, and walked away with a 27-7 win in a game that was called at halftime due to lightning in the area.

This Montevallo team, which was coming off an historic 9-3 season coming into this game, has higher expectations than any Bulldog team in the last 15 years. A team led by senior quarterback Zac Oden and playmaker Tre’Shawn Brown as well as a slew of talented juniors, Montevallo is expected to put up points in bulk. While the season is long and will inevitably have its’ ups and downs, the first showing this year did not disappoint, even in an abridged setting.

The Bulldogs opted to receive first, and as this jamboree did not have live special teams plays, Montevallo took the ball at its’ own 35 to start the game. The first play from scrimmage, Oden took the snap out of the gun, hesitated a few seconds, then hurled a long, slowly-arcing ball down the right hash to a streaking Brown, who ran under the offering, caught it, and scored standing up. The tone was set from the get-go. The Bulldogs, however, had not planned to go long on the first play of the game, no matter how poetic it would have been if they had.

“Honestly, it wasn’t (planned)” Montevallo head coach Brandon Wilcox said after the game. “I just looked at the leverage of the corner on that first play and saw they didn’t have any safety help. Zac’s got to where he’s starting to throw that deep ball really smoothly, and he’s definitely got some guys who can run under those balls.”

On Montevallo’s next drive, Juwan Tyus picked off Oden on the second snap inside Montevallo’s 30-yard-line. Tyus scored on the first play of the Red Devils’ ensuing drive, and thanks to a Diego Martinez missed extra point on the tail end of Brown’s earlier touchdown, Verbena took a 7-6 lead early in the first quarter.

After the interception, Montevallo took the ball and slowed the pace of the game down slightly. The weather was uncooperative all night, which added an extra layer of difficulty for the Bulldogs’ potential-packed passing attack. As a result, Montevallo started to feed senior running back Caleb Cottingham, who answered the call resoundingly. Cottingham used four straight runs of roughly nine yards a piece to get the offense rolling, and a few plays later Montevallo was knocking on the door. However, misfortune struck again as Oden connected with his usually sure-handed junior receiver Ahmad Edwards, who caught a ball over the middle and seemed to score, but couldn’t hold onto the ball as he stretched for the goal line. The ball came squirting out of Edwards’ grasp and went out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. As a result, Verbena dodged a bullet and got the ball at its’ own 35-yard line, still up 7-6.

While the offense needed some time to settle in, the Montevallo defense didn’t allow the Red Revils any breathing room. Led primarily by Jackson Hughes and Demetrius Smith, with substantial help from Brown and Daqwan Bryant as well, the Bulldog defense didn’t allow Verbena to gain any sort of traction the rest of the half, forcing the Red Devils into punt after punt. After a quick three-and-out, the Bulldogs had the ball again.

Oden struck again on the first play of Montevallo’s next drive, as he found a streaking TaVarius Holman for a 70-yard score. Holman, one of Montevallo’s fastest players, was all alone as he crossed the goal line, and leaned across the end zone as if he was running the 100-meter dash. That score gave Montevallo a 13-7 lead, which the Bulldogs took into the second quarter.

On Montevallo’s first drive of the second quarter from its own 36, Oden found Brown with a simple bubble screen that Brown turned into a 34-yard gain. Two nice runs by Cottingham followed, which that put the Bulldogs on the Verbena 26. On the next play, Oden kept the ball on an option sweep around the right side, and carried a Verbena defender into the end zone, giving Montevallo a 20-7 lead.

One touchdown wasn’t enough on Montevallo’s next drive, as the Bulldogs actually scored twice after the defense forced Verbena into another punt. Oden found Edwards on a beautiful 54-yard touchdown toss that was called back due to an illegal formation call, but two plays later Cottingham scored on the ground from 35 yards out to cap off the scoring for Montevallo.

“Overall I think our kids are starting to understand the concepts we want them to, offensively and defensively,” Wilcox said after the game. “I thought our effort was good, (but) we’ve got to get better up front. We’ve got to get tougher on the offensive and defensive lines if we want to be elite.”

The second half was delayed for a half hour due to lightning before the decision was made to call the game.

Oden finished the half 8-for-16 throwing the ball for 235 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Brown caught three of Oden’s passes for 101 yards and a score while Holman caught one ball, but made it count, scoring on what was recorded as a 71-yard completion. Cottingham also had 171 yards rushing in the half on just 11 carries, good for an average of 16 yards per carry, and a score to lead the way for Montevallo, as the Bulldogs accumulated 433 yards of offense in the half.

Montevallo opens the season on Aug. 26 at home against West Blocton.