Surrounded by his jubilant players after they rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Paul Bryant 26-24 Friday night, Wetumpka coach Tim Perry had one question for them.
“Way to fight back,” he said. “Now how hungry are you?”
Apparently, the Indians have quite an appetite.
In their first game since letting a late lead melt away in a 22-21 loss to Saraland in last season’s Class 6A semifinals, Wetumpka again built a sizeable advantage, had it snatched away and seemed headed for defeat against the Stampede in a spring football game at Troy’s Veterans Stadium.
This time, the Indians saw a 13-0 first-quarter lead built by their starters flipped into a 24-13 deficit with backups on the field in the fourth quarter.
But quarterback Robert Rose’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Jamarri Young with 1:50 remaining lifted Wetumpka to a victory made possible by defensive end Jaelin Thomas’ jarring tackle of a Bryant running back on fourth-and-short at the Stampede’s 27 with 3:30 remaining on a running clock.
Young then beat a Bryant defender to the corner of the end zone and hauled in Rose’s perfectly thrown ball.
The Indians, who are 24-5 the last two seasons with losses in the Super 7 and the state semifinals, have become one of Alabama’s top 6A programs but Perry doesn’t want his players thinking victories are automatic. That’s why the pleasing rally Friday night by his backups was quickly followed by Perry’s guarantee complacency has no place in his program.
“I wanted to challenge them,” Perry said. “We’ve been blessed with the success we’ve had and it could be easy to think it will just happen again. But it doesn’t just happen. We’ve played at a high level and I’ve challenged them about not riding the coattails of the last two years.
“We talk about legacy. We challenge them every year and ask, ‘What do you want it to be? You don’t want to be the guys that stopped the momentum we have created.’”
After a wobbly start, Wetumpka had all the momentum in the first quarter Friday night with its first-team offense and defense on the field.
On the first play, the Indians flushed Stampede quarterback Ty’Javian Edwards, who broke containment and raced 70 yards. But Wetumpka’s defense held inside the 10 and forced a missed field goal.
The Indians then took a 13-0 lead on quarterback Tyquan Rawls’ 26-yard touchdown pass to an open Timothy Johnson to finish an opening 80-yard drive and Terrance Thomas’ 1-yard run while playing Wildcat quarterback. Devonta Jerido’s 83-yard interception return set up Thomas’ touchdown.
Rawls, who was taken out after the first quarter, has become a leader and a more proficient passer after coming off the bench for injured starter JD Martin during the 2018 preseason. Rawls is considered a college prospect at safety but has become a more complete quarterback after averaging 9.1 yards per carry as a junior.
“He’s so much more comfortable with the offense and with coverages,” Perry said. “Early in the year (last season) we were patient and depended more heavily on our running game. Now he’s real comfortable with the offense. He took snaps in 14 games last year. He’s got a great work ethic, he provides great leadership and he’s a very explosive athlete.”
But the fourth quarter Friday night was a showcase for the reserve players after the Stampede came back to take a 21-13 halftime lead with backups starting to rotate in and seemed to have victory secured with a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Perry saw how much winning means up and down his depth chart as Wetumpka’s Stone Minnifield scored on a 13-yard run with 8:20 to go to trim the deficit to 24-19 and set the stage for the Rose-to-Young decider.
“I feel good about our team chemistry,” Perry said. “This is a very close group. They love each other and it shows every day at practice. The returning starters played like we thought they would; they played up to expectations. And some of the younger guys surprised us with how fast they picked things up. We got out of this game what we wanted to get. We were able to evaluate all the guys and we didn’t have any major injuries. We got everybody reps because everybody deserved reps.”