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A year ago, the Bulldogs walked off the field at Noxubee County, falling in the first round of the playoffs. A year later, they found themselves on the winning side, defeating Tunica Rosa Fort, 45-9, Friday night.
“For this coaching staff and this group of kids, this is the first time to win in the playoffs, and that’s exciting to know where we’ve come from, and it’s just a great group of kids,” NAHS head coach Ron Price said. “They stay focused and they’ve stayed the course, and it’s a very special win for us tonight.”
New Albany jumped on the board early on a Tyler Basil pass to Kareem Brown, putting the ‘Dawgs up 7-0. The defense would hold Rosa Fort, but a personal foul on New Albany helped set up the Lions’ first points, making it 7-3.
Near the end of the quarter, Basil connected with Josh Creekmore, and an interception return for a touchdown by Brown put the game out of reach, with New Albany going ahead 21-3 early in the second.
After an on side kick that led to a field goal by Sam Jackson Dunnam, Bernardrick Mckinney scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper, and the blocked extra point made it 24-9 at the half.
“We knew coming into the game that they were very athletic and if we gave them opportunities to stay in as the game, that they would get better as the game went along,” Price said. “We just missed tackles in the first half, and we were in the right position to be successful, we just couldn’t wrap up. We got them in third down situations, but just couldn’t get them off the field, but in the second half, the guys stay focused, work hard and got the job done.”
Basil put the Bulldogs up 31-9 late in the third quarter off a keeper that was set up by a fourth down conversion by Riley Alef earlier in the drive. A blocked punt at the end of the quarter led to Kelvin Worship’s seven-yard touchdown run, and Boston Newsome found the end zone toward the end of the game.
“We got prepared this week in practice,” Brown said after the game. “Coach Price told us that no one on the team has won a playoff game, so we tried to come out tonight and win a playoff game because we haven’t done that since we’ve been a part of this team. We came out tonight, played as a team and won.”
Basil finished 9-for-13 for 171 yards and two touchdowns, while Worship led with 55 rushing yards and Brown with 82 receiving yards.
Riley Alef led the defense with 16 tackles, and Zach hand added 12 and Creekmore 10. Luke Foley had three sacks, followed by Shane Smith with two.
Next for the Bulldogs is a road trip to Kosciusko, who earned a 33-10 win over Cleveland in the first round.
“As we keep going, we have to stay focused because every team we play is going to be a little bit better athletically,” Price said. “We just need to do a good job of being fundamentally sound and making plays when they’re given to us. We can’t miss tackles as we advance through the playoffs, we have to be sound defensively. Our kids understand what they have to do, and I think they’ll stay focused and get the job done.”
The win marks New Albany’s 12th of the season, breaking the school record of 11 wins set in the 1982 season. With the success the ‘Dawgs have had so far, Price knows their ultimate goal is within reach.
“Jackson is realistic for us this year, and the kids believe we’re destined to be there. I hope over the next four weeks we can continue to be successful and make it to Jackson.”