ALJ bests Marengo for No. 3 seed in Region 1

A. L. Johnson's Zynell McGhee surveys the field as Marengo High's Phillip Treadwell (55) pursues.

A. L. Johnson’s Zynell McGhee surveys the field as Marengo High’s Phillip Treadwell (55) pursues.

THOMASTON — Good old-fashioned Marengo County football was on full display Friday evening when the A.L. Johnson defeated Marengo 26-21.

A.L Johnson struggled to find its groove through two-plus quarters of action as it watched Marengo’s defense pitch an early shutout. The Eagles later responded by scoring 26 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0, the last of which coming by way of a 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown by senior Kinzell Bridges with 8:13 left in regulation.

“We just played tough all night long,” ALJ coach Mose Jones said when asked about his team’s ability to prevail. “In the beginning we weren’t able to start our starting quarterback for the first quarter; that put us a little off-balanced in the beginning, but I knew once we put Carr in there, we would start rolling.” Jones added, “I just want to say Coach Bell has a heck of a down-hill running team. Hats off to them, them jokers will fight and fight all night long.”

Fight they did. Marengo came ready to play as evidenced by their first-half domination. The Panthers’ defense was smothering through two quarters as they held A.L.J’s offense to four possesions, three of which resulting in three-and-outs. The only Eagles’ possession that saw more than six snaps was a result of MHS penalties. Marengo held A.L.J to an eye-popping four yards of total offense and one first down in the game’s first half.

Marengo produced 31 offensive plays, six first downs and completely controlled time of possession in the early going.

The only points of the first half came with 3:05 left before intermission after a sequence of unlikely plays. Jatevin Horn scooted 32 yards on a 4th and 20 to set up a 13-yard QB draw play that landed Michael Lewis in the end zone to put MHS up 6-0.

Marengo Panther Micheal Lewis throws a pass against the A.L. Johnson Eagles.

Marengo Panther Micheal Lewis throws a pass against the A.L. Johnson Eagles.

The Panthers would again strike first after the break by way of a freight train named Shamerian Lewis. Lewis accounted for 35 yards on the 45-yard TD drive. A simple direct snap play wasn’t a surprise; it was just unstoppable as Lewis collected 25 of the 35 yards after contact. Lewis converted on the two-point attempt, giving Marengo a 14-0 lead with 8:50 left in the third.

The Eagles responded in a timely manner thanks to a 40-yard kickoff return from Bridges, setting up A.L Johnson’s offense at Marengo’s 27-yard line. Bridges came through again four plays later from two-yards out. Bridges then crossed the plane once more on the conversion attempt and the score was 14-8 with 6:40 to go before the fourth.

Lawrence Burrell followed suit not even three minutes later. Burrell hit the left corner and proceeded to out run everybody 47 yards down the sideline and into the end zone. The two-point attempt was no good, leaving the score tied with 3:56 still remaining in the third.

The Eagles took a less aggressive approach their following series when they ran nine plays in 4:30. Hooked up with Warren Boykin for a 13-yard reception on a crucial 4th-and-12. The next play resulted in a 17-yard TD completion to Leo Baker, who went up for the ball beautifully in the corner of the end zone as he was blanketed by a Panther cornerback.

The Eagles took their first lead of the contest at 20-14 with 8:27 left on the clock.

Marengo High School's Cordarius Pritchett (10) chases A.L. Johnson's Lawrence Burrell (5) toward the Eagles sideline.

Marengo High School’s Cordarius Pritchett (10) chases A.L. Johnson’s Lawrence Burrell (5) toward the Eagles sideline.

The deadly blow to the Panthers came a mere 14 seconds later when Bridges’ fumble return for six left Marengo stunned. Marengo would go on to add eight more points, both by way of freshman back Travarious Harris with just over four minutes remaining.

The score would bring the Panthers within one possession at 26-22, but with only one timeout, MHS needed a quick stop. It didn’t happen and The A.L. Johnson Eagles’ would go on to run the clock out, preserving the 26-22 victory and more importantly, the No. 3 seed in Region1.

The heart-breaking nature of the loss could be heard in coach Dredrick Bell’s comments following the game. “

You really want the truth tonight?” Bell responded, “First off, I’m proud of each and every one of our guys tonight. They came out and fought through adversity. I’m not going to sit here and whine about it because I got too much class, but we got to come out here and play the referees all day, every day. Our guys still fought to the end and I’m proud of them. But all-in-all, it was a good football game; the better team didn’t win but that’s how it goes sometimes.”

“Well, I don’t know, you know,” Jones said in response to Bell’s comments. ”Hey we’re going to Autaugaville and they’re going to Maplesville. We finished third so take your own pick.”

Marengo Panther JaMarkus Pritchett (1) gains yardage as A.L. Johnson Eagles' Michael Mason (88) and Theodis Burton (55) give chase.

Marengo Panther JaMarkus Pritchett (1) gains yardage as A.L. Johnson Eagles’ Michael Mason (88) and Theodis Burton (55) give chase.

Marengo had 15 first downs as opposed to ALJ’s eight. The rushing totals were close with MHS finishing with 168 on the ground with the Eagles right behind them with 113 yards via the run. Yards through the air favor A.L Johnson as the Eagles got 72-yards passing while the Panthers only managed four. A.L. Johnson had five penalties totaling 45 yards and Marengo finished with 10 fouls for 90 yards.

Burrell led the Eagles with 68 yards on eleven carries and one touchdown.

Bridges had 40 yards on nine carries and finished with two scores.

Ladarius Carr threw 4-of-7 for 72 yards and one TD.

Lewis Anderson led the team with eight tackles while Bridges was a close second with seven.

Michael Lewis led Marengo in rushing as he ran for 113 yards from scrimmage on 12 carries. He accounted for one TD and had 11 tackles on defense

Freshmen Travarious Harris picked up 32 yards on just six carries with one score.

Horn had a game high in tackles with 12.

A.L. Johnson travels to Sunshine next week to close out its regular season while Marengo heads to Excel. ALJ will hit the road to play Autaugaville in the first round of the playoffs while Marengo must travel to Maplesville.