THURSDAY PREPS: Stroud, Clark lead ACA past MA; Billingsley falls
By Tim Gayle
It was Senior Night at Alabama Christian’s Wade Norton Field. And while it may not be Alden Stroud’s last game in the stadium, the senior tailback wanted to make Friday night’s performance against Montgomery Academy a memorable one.
“It was very emotional,” Stroud said. “I just hope the team comes ready to practice on Sunday and we’re going to take it week by week. I plan on coming back to this field.”
To get back to Norton Field, Stroud and his teammates will have to win a first-round playoff game at Hale County next week to earn a chance to host a second-round game, provided Munford wins its first-round game.
For first-year coach Nate Sanford, Thursday night’s 35-18 win over Montgomery Academy after two losses and an open date.
ACA’s last home win came on Sept. 22 against Trinity.
“Our last win was at Ashford, which feels like last season,” Sanford said. “So it’s a big deal to sort of springboard ourselves going into this first round of the playoffs.”
The Eagles (8-2) lost starting quarterback Reece Solar with a broken jaw in the 35-10 win at Ashford, but Solar returned to his punting duties on Thursday night and should be ready to return to quarterback against Hale County.
In his place, freshman Jalen Clark struggled against St. James, played better against Catholic and looked like a starter against Montgomery Academy, completing 10 of 13 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 56 yards and two more touchdowns.
“I know ACA’s got a great future with him, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Stroud said. “I just love the way the coaches believe in him and put him out there and know he’s going to produce.”
The matchup featured two of the city’s best tailbacks and Stroud and Montgomery Academy’s Keefe White didn’t disappoint. Stroud ripped off three huge runs early in the third quarter to set up Clark’s 6-yard scoring pass to Grayson Evans, only to see White cut back against the flow two plays later and sprint 65 yards for a touchdown.
Stroud finished with 168 yards on 23 carries, while White had 127 yards on 12 carries.
Stroud’s 51-yard kickoff return set up Clark’s 32-yard scoring run on the next play for a 7-0 lead 23 seconds into the contest but Montgomery Academy’s promising drive ended with Alex Harmon’s interception of a Trey Lindsey pass.
Harmon ran 85 yards to the end zone for an apparent touchdown but a blocking-in-the-back penalty negated the score. ACA then drove to the MA 5, but Stroud was stripped of the ball by linebacker Reggie Dixon, who recovered the fumble.
Montgomery Academy (8-2) then drove to the ACA 11 for a 28-yard field goal by Bradley Westhauser, trimming the deficit to 7-3 at the half.
“We had a chance to be up pretty good in the first half,” Sanford said, “and come away with no points on two trips inside the 10. And we get a defensive touchdown called back on a silly play. Actually, what we were feeling was we just can’t get out of our own way yet and we’ve got to turn the corner. Is this going to be the night where we turn the corner?”
Montgomery Academy coach Gary Nelson must have felt the same way after watching his team put together an uninspired effort in the first half.
“They’re a good football team,” Nelson said. “We’re a little out of rhythm this week for a lot of reasons and I think that affected us and took us a little while to get going.”
Nelson refused to elaborate and felt his team would recover in time for Friday’s first-round playoff game with Bayside Academy at McLemore Field.
“We’re right where we want to be,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”
In the second half, the two teams traded quick touchdowns not once, but twice as Clark’s second scoring toss to Evans, with one covering 19 yards. It was matched two plays later by Lindsey’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Oliver Lester with 10:22 remaining. Nelson elected to go for two – Lindsey completed a pass to William Robertson – to trim the deficit to 21-18, but the Eagles would get no closer.
ACA would score on two of its final three possessions to win going away.
“In the first half, we whipped their butt but they beat us in the red zone,” Stroud said. “You can’t beat a team if you don’t score. In the second half, we just came out with a mindset of just executing and finishing in the red zone. Even though we left some points on the field, we did a better job of executing in the second half.”
Still trailing by three points with 6:17 remaining, Nelson elected to go for it on fourth and five at the Montgomery Academy 45. White was stopped for a one-yard loss.
“I didn’t think we’d stop them again,” Nelson reasoned. “I wanted to go for it. They had a tough time tackling Keefe on ‘jet’ all night, I’m going to get the ball to our best player and see what happens. They stepped up and played well right there. You have to give them credit.”
From there, Clark scored his second touchdown of the night on a 21-yard run to seal the victory, then shoveled a pass to Jackson Hibbard that covered the final 25 yards on the next possession.
It may be his last game of 2017, but if it was, Clark saved his best for last.
“He is one of the most life-loving kids you could ever hope to be around,” Sanford said. “He always accepts responsibility, never gets down on anyone, leads by example and by words and makes pretty big-time plays for a 14-year-old.”
Dallas County 30, Billingsley 14
The Thursday night loss concluded a bizarre season for Billingsley (3-7) in which the Bears played home games in Jemison, Montgomery and Marbury after Mims Field was condemned two weeks before the start of the season.