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Vasha Hunt / AL.com Wetumpka's Hezekiah Nowden (26) wraps up Bessemer City's Deontae Hall.

After three quarters and one play of football, Wetumpka could not have asked for a worse position to be in as it was facing elimination at Bessemer City in the first round of the AHSAA Class 6A football playoffs. Trailing by 12 points to start the final frame, Wetumpka saw its punt get blocked inside its own 20 and the Tigers were seemingly on their way to the next round.

However, Wetumpka’s defense stood strong to get its third turnover on downs of the half. Tyquan Rawls and the offense took advantage of another opportunity, scoring two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game to secure a 22-21 win.

“Things were looking bleak for us,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “But when we start making plays, we feed off each other. The defense gets a stop, offense gets some confidence and drives down the field to score. Defense gained some more confidence and it just kept rolling.”

Wetumpka (6-5) got its final chance with just over three minutes to go in the game when it took over near midfield after a bad snap on a Bessemer City punt. On second and 15, Rawls was forced out of the pocket but he found Timothy Johnson wide open behind the defense for a 57-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 21-21 with two minutes left on the clock. 

“When I was rolling out, I was just thinking about a dump off to get as many yards as we could,” Rawls said. “I wasn’t thinking about the deep ball but I saw Tim and he was waving his arms so I waved him up field and he caught it.”

After missing its first two extra points of the game, Wetumpka turned to sophomore kicker Alex Londell. After a good snap and a good hold, Londell split the uprights to send the visiting sideline into a frenzy.

“We had already talked about Alex kicking the extra points before tonight,” Perry said. “We felt like Zach was struggling a little bit and that happens just like any other position. That was big for a sophomore to come in and kick that.”

Wetumpka’s defense got one more stop, its fifth turnover on downs in the game, to secure the victory. Rawls needed just one snap in victory formation to send the Indians to the second round.

Rawls finished with 165 yards and two touchdowns through the air while completing 17 of 22 passes. He also added 72 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

“We knew their defensive front was really fast,” Perry said. “Ty was keeping plays alive with his feet. We work through those scramble drills in practice every week and it paid off.”

Bessemer City (8-3) outgained Wetumpka by 70 yards but the Tigers had five drives stall inside Wetumpka territory. The Tigers rushed for 306 yards on 51 attempts, led by a 169-yard, two-touchdown performance from Deontae Hall.

After falling behind 9-0, the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points which included Hall’s pair of touchdowns and another rushing score from Rishard Densmore. However, Wetumpka outscored Bessemer City 22-0 in the first and final quarters combined.

“I’m just so proud of our team,” Perry said. “We felt like our level of competition in the regular season prepared us for this. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game and we persevered. Once we started making plays, you could feel the confidence rising.”

Wetumpka’s victory means the Indians will return home to Hohenberg Field for at least one more game. Wetumpka is slated to play Spanish Fort in the second round, the two teams’ third postseason meeting in as many years.

“How about that?” Perry said. “That’s huge. We told them that if we could take care of business, we could be back home for the second round. They believed us and made the plays to get us back there.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.