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Unbeaten Wildcats steam roll Bibb Graves (Throwback Thursday)

1105-spt-ThrowbackEditor’s note: This article is part of our “Throwback Thursday” series. This article is from our Nov. 6, 1998 files.

Bibb Graves Bulldogs’ head coach Frankie Upchurch said earlier this week that in order for his to be successful against the Florala Wildcats they would have to play a near perfect game with no mistakes.

Friday night in Florala, the Bulldogs unsuccessfully played a hugely imperfect game with at least eight mistakes that led to a 47-16 victory for the still-undefeated Wildcats (11-0) in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs.

“We had eight turnovers in the game and we haven’t had that many turnovers all year,” Upchurch said. “When you give up the ball that many times… well, the scoreboard indicates what will happen to you.”

Things unraveled quickly for the Bulldogs (5-6) in a manner that bore a striking resemblance to nearly every other Florala opponent this season.

After fumbling and recovering the opening kickoff, Bibb running backs were hammered for successive losses by Joseph White and Kris Staley, forcing a fourth-and-17 punt that gave the Wildcats a short field at the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line.

Avery Hill’s 16-yard completion to Neal Oates on third-and-14 set up a 2-yard touchdown stroll for Oates with 7:50 remaining in the quarter. The score remained 6-0 following the missed extra point.

Bibb Graves’ premier running back Dennis Simmons found the going no easier on their second offensive outing, as the Wildcats’ Nick Adams and Michael LeMaire delivered punishing blows before Jason Franklin tackled him for a 7-yard loss that forced a fourth-and-13 punt.

The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out series on Florala’s next possession in their shining defensive moment. However, Hill snagged the first of three interceptions at the Bulldogs’ 34-yard line for a drive highlighted by LeMaire’s 16-yard burst up the middle. Oates scored four plays later from one yard out, and suddenly Bibb Graves trailed by 14 points with 1:42 left in the first quarter.

Not content with that, Eddie Marczewski’s fumble recovery at the Bulldogs’ 32-ayrd line on the ensuing kickoff was converted into six points following Oates’ 26-yard run and Clay Pittman’s rushing touchdown around right end.

Craig Phillips extra point dug the hole a little deeper at 21-0 with 1:05 left in the first quarter.

To their credit, Simmons and company refused to go quietly. He eluded a host of Wildcats on the ensuing kickoff to set up a first-and-10 at the Bulldogs’ 46-yard line for their deepest penetration of the contest. Quarterback Alan Jackson hit tight end Avery Ford for an 18-yard pickup to Florala’s 42-yard line, and the Bulldogs seemed poised to make it a contest.

However, the Wildcats dashed their hopes when Hill picked off his second interception and returned it to the Florala 28-yard line, setting up a 17-yard touchdown by Oates on a right end sweep.

Another Hill interception, a 35-yard touchdown run by Steven Reese, a three-yard touchdown by LeMarie and a two-point conversion by Derrick Belcher sent Florala to the halftime locker room with a bulging 41-0 lead and sent about a third of the home-town faithful to the exits to escape the bracing cold.

Chad Ellisor’s 35-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with 8:45 left in the third quarter put the exclamation point on the victory for the Wildcats, as the second and third teams finished the game by allowing Simmons two mercy scores.

“Like I told you before, we’ve got a lot of young players and they made a lot of youthful mistakes,” Upchurch said. “If we had played the way we played the second half all night it might have been a little closer, but you’ve got to hand it to Florala. They’ve got one of the most talented high school football teams I’ve ever seen and I with the and coach (Arlton) Hudson well the rest of the way.”

“We’re in the same position Florala was in a few years ago, with a lot of ninth and tenth graders, but we’ll learn from this year and I think we’ll be back in the playoffs next year,” he said.

Hudson said the Wildcats continue to impress him with their no-nonsense, businesslike approach to dismantling every opponent in sight.

“Bibb Graves is a big, physical team, but of course the turnovers hurt them,” Hudson said. “On the other hand, they didn’t just hand us the ball, we made the turnovers happen. I’ve never seen a defense play they way we played tonight.”

Hudson said the key to stopping the Bulldogs was in stopping Simmons, who was thwarted by a surging defensive line.

“We knew coming in to this game that they would try to get their big back into the game, but when we shut him down they had to resort to their big receivers and Avery had an answer for that, too,” he said.

Florala will travel north to face the Brantley Bulldogs next week in one of the most highly-anticipated game of the season. Hudson had nothing but praise for the Wildcats’ second round opponents.

“Brantley is a great football team… this is the kind of game you live for,” he said. “They have lost one of their running backs, but they’ve got all kinds of talent left. It will be a very exciting, state championship-type game that will probably come down to two or three plays.”