New Albany made a strong statement Friday night, downing North Pontotoc 42-20 to take sole possession of the final playoff spot in Division 1-4A.
Kareem Brown set the tone for the game on the opening kickoff, take a fumble by the Vikings back for the game’s first touchdown at the 11:48 mark. New Albany struck twice more in the opening quarter on a 20-yard reception from Tyler Basil to Taylor Goode and on a short run by Eric Johnson to take the commanding 21-0 lead after the first.
“Our kickoff team set the tone early just by getting the energy going on the opening kickoff, taking it back for a touchdown. That just set the tone for the entire night. We played a great first half, and had some opportunities in the second half, but we just couldn’t cash in. I’m very proud of our football teams,” NAHS head coach Ron Price said.
NAHS had the same results in the second quarter, packing on another 21 points off touchdowns by Brown and Luke Foley, along with a 16-yard run by sophomore Lawrence Zinn. The Vikings scored once in the first quarter off a 70-yard reception from Brandon Bailey to Trae Foster, but the Bulldogs held the commanding 42-7 lead at the half.
North Pontotoc scored 13 in the second half and started to see the momentum shift their way, but the ‘Dawgs defense, led by Brown, were poised, causing several turnovers.
“We were subbing kids in and out, and that’s our fault as a coaching staff. We let them sneak back in a little bit, but as a coach we never want to embarrass anyone. North Pontotoc is working just as hard as we are, and we allowed them to get back in the game a little bit. We did a good job of finishing at the end, and we’re proud of our defense for not letting them in on that last stand. I’m very proud of them in the second half,” Price said.
Brown finished the night with 77 yards on the ground, 125 receiving and three interceptions to lead the Bulldogs.
“He stood out offensively, defensively, and he proved how good he can be on both sides of the football tonight,” Price said of the junior.
Basil finished the night with an impressive 11-for-18 performance for 306 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Goode had 96 yards receiving off three catches, and Bobby Coltharp had 48 yards in the air. Eric Johnson contributed to the rushing attack that gained 191 yards on the Viking defense as he rushed for 57 yards, and Lawrence Zinn ended with 29, Kelvin Worship 25 yards.
For the defense, Zach Hand, Josh Creekmore and Mario Gilbert each had five tackles, while Worshp had four. Adrian Gamble helped with three assists, and Brown had three interceptions along with another by Dalvin Carr.
With their first division win comes sole possession of the fourth and final playoff spot, which Price does not want to see his team lose.
“We have two games left, and we have to win one of them. We’re going to continue on the same path we’ve been all year and that’s taking it one game at a time. Hopefully our kids will remain focused as we have a great team coming here next Friday night, and we’ll start preparing for them at 7:30 in the morning.”
The ‘Dawgs will host Shannon this Friday night and will also hold Senior Night festivities. New Albany has to win one of their last two either against the Red Raiders or on the road at Tishomingo County on October 30 to make the 4A state playoffs.