A.L. Johnson takes 4A West Blocton ‘to the limit’

THOMASTON – Far from satisfied with a loss, A.L. Johnson High School head coach Johnny Ford was nonetheless pleased with the effort his Eagles showed in Friday night’s 31-22 loss to West Blocton High – a school three classifications above ALJ.

A.L. Johnson head coach Johnny Ford rallies his defense during a timeout.

A.L. Johnson head coach Johnny Ford rallies his defense during a timeout.

“We took a 4A team to the limit,” said Ford. “This let us know we’ve got some guts and some character. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times, but we competed with them. I like the way our guys competed, even though we didn’t win the game.”

The homestanding Eagles brought the crowd to its feet midway through the fourth quarter, taking a 16-15 lead in what had been a defensive slugfest. A.L. Johnson scored on an 11-yard Mike Croom run that was set up by a Jeremiah Smith fumble recovery at the visiting Tigers’ 24. ALJ quarterback Zynell McGhee tossed a two -point conversion pass into the end zone and receiver Gregory Baker won the jump ball to put A.L. Johnson up by one.

West Blocton quickly answered, though, marching 68 yards and retaking the lead on a one-yard Jake Vick quarterback sneak. Paul Clayton’s two-point conversion run gave WBHS a 23-16 margin, and another score moments later pushed the Tiger lead to 31-16.

The gritty Eagles bounced back to make the final margin 31-22 when McGhee hit Charles Edwards on an 18-yard scoring strike with 54 seconds to play.

“This was a learning experience for our guys,” said Ford, in his first season at the helm of the Eagle program. “We now have a week off to get ready for regional play.”

Both defenses showed their prowess in the first half, each holding the other team out of the end zone for the entire first quarter. In the second, the teams traded scores, with A.L. Johnson taking the game’s first lead on a McGhee sneak on fourth-and-goal from the one with 6:59 left in the half.

McGhee hit Baker for the two-point conversion.

West Blocton bounced back moments later on Leonard Ward’s one-yard run to cap a 62-yard drive, followed by a Ward two-point conversion run.

In the third quarter, West Blocton took a momentary 15-8 lead when Clayton bolted 40 yards for the score and Jaylon Gaines booted the extra point, leading to Croom’s touchdown run on the next series that gave ALJ its final lead of the night.

West Blocton advances to 2-0 with the win, while A.L. Johnson falls to 1-1. After next week’s bye, the Eagles travel to Akron Sept. 12.