Defense lifts Montevallo to thrilling win

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – For a team that has been lauded for its offensive production all season, it was the Montevallo defense that stepped up time and again in the Bulldogs’ final regular season game. Montevallo (9-1) welcomed in an 8-1 Fultondale team into Theron Fisher Stadium on Oct. 27 for a regular season finale that pitted a pair of the top 3A programs in the state against each other. Fultondale had already locked up the 3A Region 6 championship heading into the game while Montevallo had the No. 2 slot out of Region 4 in the bag, but both teams played as if their season depended on a win. After a primarily defensive battle, Montevallo was able to skate past the visiting Wildcats by a final score of 16-12.

“Coach (Lanny) Jones, I can’t say enough about the job he’s doing with our defense this year,” Montevallo head coach Brandon Wilcox said after the game. “The kids are playing hard; he’s got them in position to make plays. The defense stepped up tonight and played their butts off.”

The first quarter passed by quickly, as both teams kept the ball on the ground for the majority of the quarter, and neither was able to get on the scoreboard. Fultondale had a chance inside the Montevallo 10-yard line, but a Demetrius Smith sack on fourth down kept the Wildcats out of the end zone. Fultondale getting inside the red zone but being held scoreless quickly became routine in this game.

The Wildcats did get on the board first however, on the first play of the second quarter. Derrick Moore broke into the Montevallo secondary and scampered 33 yards for a score to break the stalemate, and after a botched extra point the Wildcats led 6-0.

Montevallo, a thin team depth-wise to start with, has been hit hard with injuries this season, and the Bulldogs are currently without playmaking receivers Ahmad Edwards and TaVarius Holman as well as lineman Matthew Allen and Taylor Hall. As a result, the potential for what this offense could be capable of doing if completely healthy will remain a mystery. However, this team is still capable of scoring in a hurry, as the Bulldogs showed on their ensuing drive.

Zac Oden found Jay Sullens for a 42-yard reception down the right sideline before promptly hitting Tre’Shawn Brown in stride on one of the prettiest passes of the season for a 32-yard score on the next play. A Diego Martinez extra point later, and Montevallo had the lead less than a minute after Fultondale got in the end zone.

Fultondale responded with another score, which came on a fourth-and-seven situation from the Montevallo 32. Jason King took a screen pass all the way to the house, which gave Fultondale a 12-7 lead.

Martinez squeezed a 39-yard field goal over the crossbar late in the first half, and the Bulldogs went into the locker room trailing 12-10.

Daqwan Bryant, one of Montevallo’s other receiving threats, was held out of the second half as a precautionary measure, which limited the Bulldogs offensive potency even more. With Bryant out, Sullens and Davion Gilbert were thrust into larger roles in the second half, and both responded well to the moment.

“Losing him obviously limited our ability on the perimeter,” Wilcox said. “He’s definitely one of our best players, but I was proud of our young guys for stepping up and filling in for them.”

Throughout the third and fourth quarters, Fultondale got inside the Montevallo 20 yard line three times, and each time the Bulldog defense stood tall and turned the Wildcats away with no points. In the fourth quarter, with the score still 12-10 in favor of the visitors, the Montevallo offense finally found some traction. The Bulldogs took over at their own 23 yard line with 6:40 to play, and drove 67 yards in just over three minutes to take the lead.

Caleb Chappel took a handoff up the gut at the Fultondale 37, burst through the line and was off to the races, and scored standing up.

“They were just giving us an empty box there, I didn’t know if we were going to split it and score, but I thought we could make a play on them, at least make them honor our run a little bit,” Wilcox said of Chappel’s game-winning touchdown. “He did a great job of hitting the hole hard, our offensive line did a phenomenal job of blocking. Big play there.”

After a failed two-point conversion, Fultondale had a chance to answer, and once again got the ball down inside the Montevallo 20. On fourth and one with less than a minute to play, the defense finished the job, forcing a turnover on downs, and Montevallo escaped with the 12-10 win.

Oden finished with 260 yards passing and completed 20 of 32 throws. He also rushed 13 times for 58 yards and finished with a passing touchdown and a pick. Brown had 11 receptions for 123 yards and a score as well as 11 tackles and one forced fumble on defense. Nick Norris and Jackson Hughes both had 12 tackles while Tyler Olds had 13 and a sack. Smith had nine tackles and a sack as well to lead the defensive unit.

With the win, the Bulldogs tied the record for the most regular season wins in program history, and now Montevallo will try to get its’ 10th win of the season for only the second time in the 86-year history of the program next week when the Bulldogs host Southside-Selma in the first round of the 3A playoffs.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.