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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Jaleel Johnson (15) stretches over the goal line to extend Wetumpka's lead during Friday's win at Calera.

Early in Friday’s game at Calera, Wetumpka’s defense appeared to be dealing with some of the same problems it saw during last week’s loss to Dothan. After forcing a punt on the opening drive of the game, Calera rolled into opposing territory with a 12-play drive to set itself up inside the red zone.

The Eagles elected to go for it on fourth down and appeared to reach the marker but the ball had popped out of the scrum at the line. Wetumpka’s Hezekiah Nowden was the first to react, scooping up the ball and running 88 yards for the opening touchdown with 3:52 to go in the first quarter. The Indians went on to earn a 35-7 victory.

“I knew they couldn’t run outside of me so I was doing my best to help cover the inside,” Nowden said. “There was no whistle so I had to go. That gained a lot of momentum. The offense feeds off the defense.”

Nowden made another big play on Calera’s ensuing drive, getting a tackle for a loss to force a long third down try for the Eagles. Wetumpka’s Kamarre Murphy took over from there and intercepted a pass along the sideline to set his team up inside of Calera territory.

Wetumpka (2-1, 1-0 Class 6A Region 3) did not waste any time on offense this time, giving it to Brandon Bowman for a 20-yard run on the first play. Three plays later, Tyquan Rawls continued his season’s offensive onslaught with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaleel Johnson over the middle.

“(Calera) had a great game plan against us,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “They were executing it but in a game of momentum, we were able to scoop and score then score on our next possession. That takes a little bit more pressure off our guys and we could play with some more confidence.”

Wetumpka’s 14-point lead was cut in half after another long drive by Calera was capped off by a touchdown run from Kobe Prentice. The Eagles used Prentice and Ashton Shoddie in a strong rushing attack throughout the first half.

Calera (1-2, 0-1) had a chance to cut into the deficit even more with Wetumpka facing a third and long on the next drive. However, Rawls took off for a 58-yard run to convert then found Malik Davis in the corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play to give Wetumpka a 21-7 lead at halftime.

“We wanted to keep them up,” Perry said. “They were giving great effort so we just told them to keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving to the ball and keep making plays. We started doing a better job of that.”

The Indians forced a punt on Calera’s first drive of the second half before cashing in on a nine-play, 79-yard drive to extend the lead. Rawls converted two third downs on the drive, one with his legs and one with a pass to Johnson. Terrance Thomas capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.

“I thought we ran the ball a little bit better tonight,” Perry said. “Our goal is to try to be as multi-dimensional on offense as possible and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”

Rawls finished the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run, his third consecutive game with at least three touchdowns. Rawls finished with 154 yards and two touchdowns on 8-of-13 passing to go with 94 yards and the score on 11 rushing attempts. As a team, Wetumpka racked up 326 yards of total offense.

Wetumpka won its region opener for the third consecutive season. The Indians have turned the first win into a region title in each of the last two years and Perry said that goal is what keeps everyone working hard.

“That’s where I focus was all week,” Perry said. “We’re the two-time defending region champs and we’re trying to win it again. Very proud of how we bounced back all week and our guys responded great.”

Wetumpka will travel to Opelika next week for a region game which has been decided by four total points over the last three seasons. The last two meetings have come down to the final play so every Wetumpka player knew what week started as soon as the final buzzer sounded at Calera.

“This is a good bounce back for us,” Nowden said. “Everybody has their heads straight and we’re ready for the next game. It’s a big one.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.