Curtavius Gray walks off the field after making the game-saving interception. (Daily Home)
ALPINE — Big plays and defensive stands allowed the Winterboro Bulldogs to escape with a thrilling 28-26 win over regional foe St. Jude Friday night.
With their respective wins, the Bulldogs (4-0) and the Notasulga Blue Devils (4-0) became the only undefeated teams remaining in Class 1A Region 3, locked at the top of the standings at 3-0.
“I’m trying to replay the game in my head and how it happened, the second half seemed like it blew by,” said Winterboro head coach Adam Fossett. “What a win for the program against a heck of an opponent. My hat’s off to St. Jude, they’re an extremely tough team.”
Josh Taylor led Winterboro with 20 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“I’m thankful to God for everything, because without him we wouldn’t be here,” Taylor said. “This is what we work for, all the blood, sweat and tears are paying off right now. I want to thank my team for laying it all out on the line. We talked about adversity coming into the game, and we took it head on.”
Curtavius Gray added 41 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
St. Jude dropped to 3-1, 2-1 with the loss, but head coach Wade Manora said his team will waste no time moving on.
“We’re not worried about it, we’re getting ready for the next game,” Manora said. “The game is not disappointing. We don’t play football like that, we play for the next week. We’re still going to win the state championship. That’s how we play. We don’t play for moral victories.”
A facemask and a personal foul penalty on Winterboro’s opening drive placed the ball at the St. Jude 9-yard line, where Gray found pay dirt a play later. The extra point try was no good, but the Bulldogs led 6-0 early.
A 49-yard kickoff return from Bryan Brower sparked St. Jude’s initial drive. Brower finished it with a 2-yard score. He also added a two-point conversion, giving St. Jude an 8-6 lead.
Later in the quarter St. Jude pinned the ball on the Winterboro 18-yard line, but Taylor just needed one play to give the lead back to the Bulldogs. The senior took the handoff, broke a tackle, and sprinted 82 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 12-8 with 3:02 left in the first quarter.
The Pirates answered on their ensuing possession with a 2-yard touchdown from Dekian Clinch. The extra point attempt failed, and St. Jude led 14-12.
Later in the quarter St. Jude’s Antonio Justice floated a pass downfield and Winterboro’s Jalen Whetstone leaped up to grab the interception. He returned the ball 24 yards, and Taylor Garrett ran the ball in for a 15-yard touchdown moments later. Garrett tossed a pass to Cedric McKenzie for the 2-point conversion, and with 4:57 left in the half Winterboro increased its lead to 20-12.
St. Jude threatened to score late in the quarter, driving the ball down to the Bulldog 13-yard line. On the final play of the half, Winterboro’s Bernard Twymon sacked St. Jude’s Tony Minnifield before he could get a pass off.
St. Jude wasted no time finding the end zone to start the second half. After runs of six and 16 yards by Justice, Minnifield slung a 43-yard bomb to Clinch in the right end zone, setting the pace for a wild third quarter. Taylor blocked the extra point to keep the game tied at 20-20.
With under six minutes to play in the third, the Bulldogs had driven the ball down to St. Jude’s 11 yard-line. Garrett threw a goal-line interception to Jarvis Provitt, who returned it 94 yards to the Bulldog 6-yard line. Garrett attempted to tackle Provitt, but took a big hit when he was blocked.
The junior did not return to the game, and Fossett said Garrett’s injury will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
When play resumed the Pirates ran into another brick wall and were denied a score after four rushing attempts. Winterboro took over but went three-and-out, and Gray punted the ball. Mario Hester stripped the ball on the return, scooped it up and scampered 37 yards to the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Taylor found the end zone on a 4-yard run to give Winterboro a 28-20 edge.
And to make things even more interesting, Clinch returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead down to two points.
The score remained 28-26 for the rest of the game, but the fourth quarter held plenty more drama.
A third defensive stand occurred when Taylor denied St. Jude a touchdown at the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and on St. Jude’s final possession, Gray came up with an interception on Winterboro’s 20-yard line in the final seconds of the game.
“We knew they were going to score some points, and we knew we would have to contain them and hold them down,” Fossett said. “Holding them to 26 is a huge deal, compared to 50-plus they’re averaging. Defensively we had a great night.”
Winterboro will host B.B. Comer next week.
Read more:The Daily Home - Winterboro chews out wild 28 26 win