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Caleb Turrentine / Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Stanhope Elmore’s Jaqori Williams (11) and Quentarius Edwards (21) hit the Selma ball carrier to force a fumble in the first quarter.

Selma’s offense picked up a first down on its first series against Stanhope Elmore but the Mustangs quickly saw their defense take control. At the end of a long run by the Saints, Stanhope Elmore’s Jaqori Williams hit the back of the ball carrier, jarring the ball loose.

The ball popped into the air, allowing Frederick Moore to catch the ball and turn it over to the Stanhope offense. The Mustangs marched 80 yards for a touchdown and never looked back on their way to a 24-0 win, which clinched a home playoff game for the first time since 2010.

“This is the goal we set forth this season,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “It means a lot to us but we’re not satisfied. This is just a notch. Now we move on to the next goal which is to win the region next week.”

Stanhope (7-1, 4-0 Class 6A Region 3) has now won six straight games and will host Opelika in a game for the region title next week. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, the Mustangs knew who was up next and were not letting the thought of a playoff game sink in just yet.

“This is big but we still have to take it one game at a time,” Stanhope defensive lineman TJ Jackson said. “We can’t talk about the home-field advantage and stop our season. It’s about the next team up.”

The Mustangs had several players step up on defense to limit Selma’s explosive offense. Jackson finished with three sacks and three quarterback hurries to lead the team’s pass rush which was in the backfield most of the night.

“I love my defensive line brothers,” Jackson said. “They set it up for me to make plays and I set it up for them to make plays. And the (defensive backs) do a great job to give us time to get to the quarterback.”

The Stanhope defense combined for nine tackles for a loss and finished with three takeaways as Moore and Jeremy Thompson added interceptions to the early fumble recovery. Selma (4-3, 2-2) was limited to 35 yards of offense.

“Selma has scored 40-plus the last two games and they have all kinds of athletes,” Bradford said. “For us to be able to shut them out, it shows what we’re capable of doing on defense.”

The Mustangs offense did not need to do much but it set the tone early with a 10-play touchdown drive on its opening possession, taking more than seven minutes off the clock in the first quarter. Andrew Rines converted two third downs through the air before connecting with Conner Bradford on a fade route for a 16-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.

After the first possession, Stanhope scored 17 points on three drives with an average starting field position of the Selma 38-yard line.

“Any time you can go 40 instead of 80, that’s huge,” Bradford said. “That’s always big when the defense generates turnovers. It always generates excitement on the sideline plus a short field is always good.”

Rines finished with more completions than rushing attempts for the first time this season. He was 5-for-12 through the air with 66 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Wilson caught the second touchdown to put Stanhope ahead 17-0 at halftime.

“We know he can throw and he can do everything,” Bradford said. “He’s amazing. We’re fine throwing the football but we like imposing our will as much as possible.”

Stanhope may have been more two-dimensional this week but it still turned to its rushing attack for most of the night. Tray Duncan finished with 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries while Antonio Trone rushed for 56 yards on 13 carries in relief duty.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.