Wetumpka punches ticket to Super 7
By Tim Gayle
WETUMPKA – It was the biggest call of the game. And it wasn’t made by a coach.
Backed up in the shadows of its own goal line, Wetumpka was forced to punt with just over five minutes remaining, guaranteeing Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa good field position as the Patriots hoped to turn up the pressure with a touchdown to cut into a 10-point lead.
Kavosiey Smoke had other ideas. As teammate Jadarious Martin prepared to take the snap near his goal line, Smoke turned toward his teammate as he barked out the signal to snap the ball to his punter. Martin took the snap and bolted for the right side of the field. Eighty-two yards later, he was in the end zone and the Indians had secured their first-ever trip to the state championship game with a 44-27 victory.
Wetumpka (13-1) will play Pinson Valley (14-0) next Friday in Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Class 6A state championship at 7 p.m.
Martin’s run out of punt formation was a stunning turn of events that no one could have predicted, not even Wetumpka coach Tim Perry.
“That was a fake called by an outstanding football player,” Perry said. “It’s something we’ve worked on all year but we’ve never really called it in a game. I didn’t know what was going on.”
They may have been playing in the biggest game in the history of Wetumpka High football, but Smoke never contemplated the stakes when he made the call.
“I just made the call,” Smoke said. “I read it and called the play.”
Martin said he never gave it a second thought when his senior backfield mate called for a fake.
“They were squeezed down and I know if I hit the outside, I’ll burn all of them and that’s what happened,” he said.
A disbelieving Sam Adams watched his Hillcrest High team end the season at 10-4 after grabbing a 14-7 lead at Hohenburg Field, only to have Martin and Smoke shred one of the state’s top defenses with three long touchdown runs.
“The fake punt was the play,” Adams said. “It was difference in the game. I thought we were getting back the momentum and were going to get good field position. Then they pulled that off and at the time they did it changed everything. I mean everything. The fake punt and they won the turnover battle, that’s what did us in.”
Wetumpka turned up the defensive pressure with its front line holding the Patriots to 13 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half, forcing Hillcrest to the air.
“They were planning to run the ball,” senior safety Nick Turner said, “but we went out in ‘man’ and just played lockdown everywhere, made them work harder for everything.”
Colby Smelley surprised the Indians with a quick-hitting passing attack that led to Nassir Boyd’s 1-yard touchdown run on the Patriots’ second possession to break a scoreless tie. Wetumpka battled back to tie the game on Smoke’s touchdown plunge out of Wildcat formation, but Smelley, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 201 yards, went back to the air and found Aundra Gee down the left sideline for a 43-yard touchdown pass and a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Unfazed, the Indians struck back in their customary big-play form, using a 75-yard run by Martin three plays later to tie the game once again.
“All the receivers were covered downfield,” the junior quarterback said. “I knew they had dropped back in a zone and I knew I had an open field. That’s when I made a good play.”
The game would turn in the Indians’ favor late in the second quarter and early in the third with the help of a pair of Turner interceptions. The first came as he broke on a slant-in pass to Ernest Ross at the Hillcrest 45, setting up Martin’s 21-yard pass to Keedrick Adams with 34 seconds left for a 21-14 halftime lead.
The second came on the fourth play of the second half when he stepped in front of another Smelley pass, returning it 35 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a different play than they had been running,” Turner said, “but I just read the play and went up under him and made a play on it. I was just telling my defense to calm down and stay positive and be strong on every possession. When I saw (the Hillcrest receiver) come back and break on the ball, I just broke with him, get it and go. Go, go, go.”
The touchdown gave the Indians a 14-point lead two minutes into the second half.
“It was huge, momentum right out of the gate,” Perry said. “It allowed us to grab the momentum early in the second half and we kind of rode that.”
Hillcrest answered with an impressive drive and another Boyd touchdown, but Wetumpka countered with a 30-yard field goal by Robert Stewart with 8:47 left to make it 31-21. That set the stage for Martin, who finished with 237 yards on 26 carries, to finish off the Patriots with his run out of punt formation.
After Tyquan Rawls picked off Smelley for the third time, Smoke ran 98 yards out of Wildcat formation to finish with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Smoke’s touchdown run came after a bad snap on the previous play forced him to fall on the ball just five feet from his own goal line. On the next play, he broke through a crowd of players on the Hillcrest side of the field and took off for the end zone for a 44-21 lead.
“I just kept moving,” Smoke said. “Don’t ever stop, keep your feet moving.”
Bubba Adams led the defensive effort with nine tackles, including three for loss. Older brother Chase Adams had eight tackles, including one for loss and Rawls added five tackles in a defensive effort that held Hillcrest to 61 rushing yards on 24 carries.
“Other than a couple of plays we shut down their running game,” Chase Adams said. “Our guys up front made the difference. They are really good. There is really not a team we’ve played in this state that has handled our guys up front.”
Now, the Indians get the opportunity to play for a state championship for the first time in the history of the football program.
“It means a lot to Wetumpka,” Turner said. “We’ve made a lot of history, but we didn’t come this far not to get (a championship).”