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Brian Tannehill / For Tallapoosa Publishers Holtville's Braxton Buck (4) has the ball punched out of his grasp in round 1 of the playoffs Friday night.

The Holtville High Bulldogs, after waiting 20 years to host a home playoff game, left the field Friday night defeated, suffering a 27-6 loss to Mobile’s UMS-Wright.

The visiting Bulldogs, unlike their hometown opponents, are perennial postseason mainstays and the way they played proved it; capitalizing on a series of unfortunate Holtville events. UMS-Wright took advantage of a series of turnovers that led directly to scores or put them in a shortened field situation that kept Holtville’s collective defensive back up against the wall.

“You can’t turn the football over,” said Jason Franklin, coach of the Holtville Bulldogs after the game. “We turned it over three times. You don’t do that and it’s a 7-7 game. We couldn’t get out of our own way tonight. UMS-Wright is a good football team and they are coached to the right things. They played fundamental football to perfection.”

That “fundamental football played to perfection” moniker sums up the way the visiting Bulldogs managed the game, shifting from a wide-open offense to one set on ball-control and shortening the clock. Defensively, they stymied Holtville’s efforts, holding Drew Pickett 90 yards on 30 carries and forcing quarterback Braxton Buck, who finished with 89 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, to scramble around impeding rushers and coverage sacks.

“They read their keys really well,” Franklin said. “When they saw pass sets, they did what they were supposed to do.”

While the offense struggled to find any forward momentum, the Holtville defense brought the fight, allowing 62 yards passing and 126 yards rushing in the loss.

“Our defense played their butts off tonight,” said Franklin. “That’s a testament to what Coach (David) Lovering has done with our defense this year.”

Cole Blaylock paced the visiting team’s offense. He broke free on the first punt return of the game for nearly 70 yards setting UMS-Wright up with a first down from the Holtville 8. Two plays later quarterback Trey Singleton dove in for the touchdown.

John Williamson picked off a UMS-Wright pass that put Holtville on the offensive inside the white-clad Bulldogs’ red zone.

Two plays later though, a UMS defender was able to punch the ball free as Buck was working to find an open receiver. The loose ball was pounced on by the visitors at the 16.

“I thought we came out and did what we were supposed to tonight,” said Terry Curtis, UMS-Wright coach. “It’s been a while since we’ve been on the road in the first and we know that teams are going to give us their best shot. Jason is doing a great job with those guys, so we knew it was going to be a tough-fought battle. Our defense played well and got the turnovers.”

UMS-Wright (7-4) turned that turnover into points driving the length of the field. The drive, reaching a second and long and a third and long was fueled by a 26-yard Singleton pass and then 25-yard Blaylock run.

The touchdown – a Blaylock run-in from the 2 – put UMS up 13-0.  Another seven was added to it courtesy of a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Will Elliott.

“He’s a sophomore and had a separated shoulder,” said Curtis of Blaylock. “[Friday night] was the first time he’s even played in the third quarter in the last three or four weeks. He doesn’t look like he’s moving very fast, but he’s hard to tackle. He sees a hole, sees it well and that’s what you want in a good back. And he’s tough. I thought that punt return set the tone for us to start with.”

UMS added a fourth score in the third quarter to go up 27-0.

But Holtville wasn’t done, stringing together a fourth-quarter drive that was highlighted by a fake punt pass from Drake Riordan to Dalton Yarroch for a first down and then a pass interference call on the very next play.

Buck connected with Cooper Mann and Shawn Brackett before hooking up with Ethan Headley from 10 yards out for the score.

As the jerseys entering the game got cleaner, the UMS-Wright held on to pick up the win and will advance to face Pike Road next week.

For Franklin, Friday’s loss was the last chance to coach a group of seniors that were freshmen when he was handed the leash to the program.

“I told them all I was proud of them,” said Franklin. “They bought in to doing things that hadn’t been done here; working out and being accountable, practicing hard. At times, being pushed to the point where they wanted to quit, but that’s a part of growing up. Being a coach – we’re not a pastor, but we have a platform – gives us the chance to be role models and to teach them how to be good men because they are going to be the leaders one day.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.