Life in the Alabama high school football playoffs isn’t supposed to be easy and that was certainly the case on Friday night for Edgewood.
The 2019 football team at a school that once held a 71-game winning streak is getting valuable education in winning again.
Friday’s lesson: Finishing games.
The Wildcats had to sweat out a 34-26 win over Lowndes Academy on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the AISA Class AA playoffs.
Edgewood (9-2) held a 34-18 lead following a 15-yard touchdown run by Mitchell Boyd, who looked to put the game out of reach, but that wasn’t the case.
Lowndes Academy (5-5) responded with a 75-yard kickoff return touchdown by Trevor Haney, then got the ball back with 1:03 left.
The Rebels turned the ball over on downs, and the Wildcats could finally breathe.
“We’ve got a lot of things we need to clean up,” Wildcats coach Darryl Free said. “Lowndes never gave up and outplayed us for a while. At the end of the day, we got the win. Hopefully, the players can learn from this and play better.”
Wildcats quarterback Alex Johnson completed touchdown passes of 57 and 59 yards, both to Kaleb Varner to give Edgewood a 14-7 lead at halftime. Varner finished with five catches for 116 yards and the two scores. Boyd rushed for 83 yards on 15 carries.
After Varner intercepted a pass from Rebels quarterback Colby Briggs, Edgewood’s Issac Gordy scored from 7 yards out to give the Wildcats a 20-6 lead early in the third quarter.
On Edgewood’s next possession with the Wildcats facing fourth down, Johnson hit Carson Peevy on a 23-yard strike for a 27-12 lead.
Joseph Benton led the Edgewood defense with 11 tackles and three sacks. Gordy and Clay Williams each added nine tackles.
“We didn’t execute everything the way we wanted to,” Johnson said. “We’re learning that we’ve got stick to our details more. We’ve got a great group of receivers and they can make plays. We’ve got to just keep working and getting better.”
The pesky Rebels kept the game close with big plays of their own.
After Briggs scored from 10 yards out to cut Edgewood’s lead to 20-12, John Morgan picked up a short kickoff and took it 68 yards for a Rebels touchdown. Lowndes failed its two-point try, keeping the 27-18 deficit going into the fourth quarter.
Briggs completed 7 of 18 passes for 69 yards, rushed for another 24 yards and had five tackles on defense. Haney rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and had six tackles with an interception on defense.
Edgewood will travel to Escambia Academy next Friday for a spot in the state championship game at Troy. The Wildcats lost to the Cougars in Atmore last year.
“We were one touchdown short against those guys last time,” Varner said. “It’ll be a tough challenge. They’re a really good team and we’ve got to play a lot better to beat those guys. We’re really looking forward to it.”