Kareem Brown was one of several Bulldogs trying to keep the defense focused as New Albany struggled against North Pontotoc in the first half of their division contest Friday night. Fighting adversity, the ‘Dawgs worked their way to a tie at the half and eventually the 48-26 win on the road.
“They were running hard, hitting holes, and their splits on the o-line were wide, so they were spreading us out a little and hitting right up the middle,” Brown said of the Viking offense. “At halftime, our coaches told us we needed to make adjustments, but the biggest adjustment was that they wanted it more than we did. He told us to wrap up, and we came out in the second half and started wrapping up and running to the ball, and that got us going and gave us momentum, and we made plays after that.”
The Vikings scored first on a one-yard run by quarterback Brandon Bailey and maintained the 7-0 lead until Tyler Basil found Brown for the tying score in the second quarter.
North Pontotoc scored on their ensuing drive, a 16-yard run by Shemiah Carter, but Brown would find the end zone once more before the half to tie the game at 14.
Taking the ball first in the second half, Josh Creekmore’s 25-yard run gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game.
“We struggled in the first half, and Coach Price told us we had to dominate in the second half to win this game, and we got the ball first in the second half and were able to dominate that opening drive and score,” Basil said. “I won’t say that was the exclamation point, but that was a big part of us winning.”
The Vikings would score on their first possession, but Shane Smith stepped up with the blocked extra point, allowing the Bulldogs to stay in front. The two teams would trade touchdowns once more in the third, Brown scoring from three yards out and Mitchell Cunningham scoring his second touchdown to make it a 28-26 game heading into the fourth.
New Albany’s defense came alive in the final quarter after Marcus Green had an interception of Basil. Brown responded with a Bulldog interception on the next play, leading to Kelvin Worship’s first score, and Zach Hand followed with the ‘Dawgs second pick, setting up Worship’s second touchdown. Brown capped the win with his fourth touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
“We were right there on the ball every time, but they were just executing and making the plays in the first half,” NAHS head coach Ron Price said. “Second half, the tables turned and Kareem came up with that huge interception right after we had given them the ball back, and later in the half, Zach made another huge interception for us, and they made the plays when they needed to. They struggled in the first half, but we knew if we kept fighting, we were in the right position, and good things were going to happen for us.”
“We had been playing through adversity all game, and coach told us that were going to play through adversity sometimes, and tonight it hit us,” Brown added. “We just trusted in each other, kept playing and kept our heads on straight and we came up with some big interceptions that turned the game around for us.”
Brown finished with 183 total yards on offense (131 rushing, 52 receiving) and four touchdowns along with the interception and seven tackles on defense. Worship finished with 141 yards on the ground and two scores for the undefeated Bulldogs.
Defensively, Riley Alef and Hand each had 12 tackles, followed by Dalvin Carr with 10. Shawn Smith added six tackles and a sack.
The Bulldogs will face their biggest test yet in a showdown at Shannon next week with the division championship on the line.
“It’s exciting for myself and these kids to be in this position,” Price said. “This is new for all of us, but to go to Shannon next week with a chance to win the division, you couldn’t ask for anything else. These kids have gotten up for every challenge we’ve put in front of all year, and if we want to be division champions, you’ve got to fight for 11 weeks, and next week’s just going to be another challenge.”
“It’s huge, because we’re going to play for the division and they don’t like to lose at home, but we’re going to see what we can do about that,” Basil added. “We’re just going to play our hearts out, and that’s going to start on Sunday at film. There’s not much you can say. It’s for the division championship, and that’s all you can say about it.”