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Brian Tannehill / For Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Stanhope Elmore’s Tray Duncan (24) runs into the end zone for a touchdown.

Stanhope Elmore had more miscues in the fourth quarter than it wanted, leaving the door open for Wetumpka to send Friday night’s rivalry game into overtime. However, the Mustangs sealed their second straight victory over Wetumpka when the defensive line teamed up for a fourth-down sack on Wetumpka’s Tyquan Rawls with 11 seconds to go.

Andrew Rines got one more snap in victory formation and took a knee to give Stanhope its fifth consecutive win with a 28-20 victory at Hohenberg Field. It was the first time since 2005 the Mustangs recorded back-to-back wins against Wetumpka.

“The kids believe in us right now,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “They believe in what we’re doing. Wetumpka is better than us. They have better athletes than us but our guys played hard tonight. They wanted it and believed in themselves.”

Wetumpka (3-4, 1-2 Class 6A Region 3) cut its deficit to just one score with 5:34 to go in the game but Stanhope’s Jeremy Thompson recovered the ensuing onside kick. However, the Mustangs gave it right back after Wetumpka’s Avery Thomas recovered a fumble near midfield.

Thompson came to the rescue again, making up for fumbling a punt return earlier in the game, when he secured his fifth interception of the season on a double pass play by the Indians. 

“This feels good,” Thompson said. “We got out there and worked all week so to see it all payoff is a blessing. We just keep grinding.”

Rines recorded runs of 33 and 12 yards to get Stanhope into field goal position but the kick was wide right with 44 seconds left to give Wetumpka one final shot. Stanhope’s TJ Jackson and William Whitlow Jr. collapsed the pocket around Rawls before bringing him to the ground to turn the ball over on downs.

“As a coach, I want us to be able to finish the game and we should have a couple of different times,” Bradford said. “But that also builds character and trust when it comes down to the wire like that. It will help us down the road.”

Stanhope Elmore (6-1, 3-0) relied heavily on its rushing attack, running the ball on 50 of its 53 offensive snaps. Tray Duncan was expected to be the workhorse entering the game and he led the way with 179 yards on 34 carries, scoring two first-half touchdowns in the process. 

“I was coaching up the offensive line, telling them to execute every play and we would have their backs,” Duncan said. “They did it for us. We did this as a team.”

It was the fourth time this season Wetumpka allowed a running back to rush for more than 150 yards. Stanhope finishing with 309 rushing yards.

“We weren’t getting off blocks and giving up too many yards after contact,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “Credit to them because they executed the game plan very well.”

Rines was the other half of Stanhope’s backfield as the quarterback rushed for 122 yards on 14 carries. He scored the opening touchdown, capping an 11-play drive which lasted more than six minutes to set the tone for the Mustangs.

“He’s a winner,” Bradford said. “He may be the shortest and smallest person on the team but he runs like he’s 6-3, 200. You want to give it to the guys you trust the most.”

Wetumpka’s backfield was limited for the second straight week but Rawls managed to find more running room in the second half. He finished with 126 yards and a touchdown on the ground to go along with 96 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Malik Davis and Brandon Bowman each caught a touchdown for the Indians.

“They have that fighting spirit,” Perry said. “We love coaching them. They’re hurting right now. It’s easy to say you just have to keep your heads up and keep working but when you put in as much work as they did this week, it’s discouraging but that’s a life lesson this game teaches us.”

Rawls’ biggest play of the night was a 66-yard touchdown run on Wetumpka’s first drive of the second half but it was called back by an illegal formation with too many players in the backfield. Rawls had to sit out to catch his breath and the Indians could not respond, punting the ball back to Stanhope two plays later. 

“That took the wind out of us,” Perry said. “We had the momentum and then the penalty wipes the touchdown off. We lost momentum and had to drive the ball all over again.”

The Mustangs took advantage of the penalty and responded with a 13-play drive which included three third-down conversions and the team’s only two pass completions. Rines found Conner Bradford in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard pass for Stanhope’s final touchdown, giving the Mustangs just enough to win. Rines finished 2-for-3 through the air with both completions going to Bradford for 32 total yards.

“A lot of different people made plays all night long,” Bradford said. “That’s what makes us dangerous.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.