ACA earns key victory over Ashford
By Tim Gayle
The first three quarters had been productive but somewhat frustrating for the Alabama Christian offense.
There had been a fumble out of the back of the end zone, a missed field goal, a blocked field goal and a botched fourth-down play that had resulted in turning the ball over on downs inside the Ashford 10-yard line.
With eight minutes to go, the Eagles and the Yellow Jackets were still locked in a scoreless tie.
“You try to keep things in perspective,” ACA coach Bill Moore said. “You just remind them they’re right there. They believe in themselves now that they can go out and finish a football game.”
Alabama Christian finished with a pair of late touchdowns to turn back Ashford, 14-0, at Wade Black Norton Memorial Field in a crucial region game for both teams.
“Every week, with every win, we rise up higher and higher,” said Cole Schlemmer, who had a touchdown catch and an interception on the Yellow Jackets’ ensuing possession to aid in the victory. “We’ve become a better unit, a better team. Every week, we’re drawing closer together. Everybody believes in each other. The saying that has become popular the last few weeks is everybody doing their job and everybody’s bought into doing their job. When everybody does their job, you come out on top.”
Alabama Christian (4-3) won for the fifth time on the field, but had to forfeit season-opening win over Providence Christian. Still, five on-the-field victories in the Eagles’ first seven games has been matched only six previous times in the 42-year history of the program.
More importantly, ACA secured a crucial region victory with the win over Ashford, drawing it closer to a playoff berth as another huge home game with St. James looms next week. The Eagles won for the third time in four region games, which they have done only one other time (2004) in history.
“We talked about getting this win,” Moore said. “We knew we weren’t eliminated from the playoffs if we lost it, but we wanted to take care of tonight and be able to control a lot more of own destiny.”
Ashford (4-2) had a hard time generating offense out of the wing-T, managing just one first down in the fourth quarter and minus two passing yards in four completions. ACA linebacker Dusty Young led the effort with 11 tackles.
“They’re pretty precise in running that offense,” Schlemmer said. “They’re good at it. We practiced all week, watched film and executed. Our defensive line did a great job running them off the ball so when everybody executes and does their job, you come out on top.”
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion as the crucial contest entered a fourth quarter with no score. Quarterback Reece Solar had fumbled out of the back of the end zone on an early run toward the goal and placekicker Hunter Hanson had missed a field goal attempt and had another blocked. When a pulling lineman bumped into Solar at the Ashford 5-yard line on a fourth-down play late in the third quarter, resulting in a two-yard loss, the Eagles appeared to be their own worst enemy.
“A few mental mistakes here and there cost us a few scores,” Schlemmer noted, “but all that matters is we pulled it out at the end of the game.”
Solar, who rushed for 124 yards on 16 carries and completed 7 of 15 passes for another 99 yards, finally connected with Schlemmer on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 7:05 left to break the deadlock.
“I just had a fade route and the safety bit down a little too far,” Schlemmer said. “The opposite-side safety came over and tipped it, but he tipped it right into my breadbasket.”
For a team that had relied on the running of Solar and Alden Stroud most of the night, the aerial attack was a productive alternative.
“You’ve got a kid that’s come off of two 100-yard rushing performances at the quarterback position,” Moore said. “You have to account for that on defense and you can’t really play a whole lot of man defense. We caught them in a zone defense there and that’s not something I think they’re totally comfortable with.”
After a long field goal attempt by Hanson came up short, Schlemmer intercepted a Colby Rice pass and returned it 14 yards to the Ashford 9 to set up a touchdown run on the next play by Stroud, who had 146 of his 148 rushing yards in the second half.