Turnovers, big plays push Sweet Water past Maplesville

Bulldog QB Jonah Smith (9) breaks through the middle of the Red Devil’s line and races for a key 2nd half TD. (WAW | Johnny Autery)

The state’s longest win streak is over and Sweet Water is headed to the Class 1A semifinals because of it. Pat Thompson’s Bulldogs beat Maplesville 26-21 Friday night, ending a 34-game Red Devil win streak and guaranteeing a new state champion for the first time since 2013.

For their part, the Bulldogs were able to draw upon a 2016 quarterfinal loss to Maplesville that saw Sweet Water tied with the Red Devils late in the fourth quarter only to lose 60-34.

“We knew we could play with them. We went down 14-0 early tonight and just stayed the course, kept plugging along,” Thompson said. “We didn’t get in any funk or anything. We just kept preaching to them on the sideline, ‘We’re going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.’ We came back and tied it at the half.”

Maplesville struck quickly when Ryan Morrow ran for an 89-yard touchdown with 11:31 left in the opening quarter for the 7-0 lead. Thomas Schoener later hit Nathaniel Watson for a 6-yard touchdown and the 14-0 lead and Maplesville was rolling.

Momentum for the Bulldogs came in the form of a spectacular play by Sasha Smith that amounted to a 27-yard catch and a significant turning point in the game.

“Sasha made a great one-handed catch on our first touchdown drive and that changed everybody’s demeanor,” Thompson said. “It just kind of turned from there, that one big play.”

That big play helped set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Jacory Brown with 8:01 left in the second quarter. Sweet Water then battled the game to dead even with 1:01 left in the frame when Shamar Lewis punched it in from five yards out.

The Bulldogs stayed on the attack in the third quarter as Jonah Smith ran for a 58-yard touchdown with 10:12 left in the period. Lewis then struck again with a 7-yard run in the closing seconds of the quarter to move it to 26-14.

Maplesville got back in it with 10:46 to play when Schoener hit Michael Harris for a 20-yard score.

Morrow ran for 141 yards and Watson ran for 120 but the Red Devils could not overcome interceptions made by the Sweet Water defense.

“We came up a big interception right before the half. We got another one later on,” Thompson, whose team has intercepted 25 passes this season, said. “Any time you’re playing a team like Maplesville and you get turnovers, that’s big for you.”

Jonah Smith, Sasha Smith and Kaleb Greene each picked off a pass in the quarterfinal victory. Lewis ran for 106 yards on 17 carries. Jonah Smith had 69 yards on seven carries. Brown had 42 yards on 15 carries. Sweet Water notched the win despite being outgained 395-311.

The Bulldogs are set to travel to Wadley next Friday night for the Class 1A state semifinals.

“They’re going to be real good. They’re averaging 50 points a game, I believe it is. They’re giving up just about five or six points a game defensively,” Thompson, whose team survived Wadley 21-20 in the second round in 2016, said. “We’ve got our hands full this week.”