By Scott Nickerson, Sports Writer, EAN
Less than 20 seconds into the non-region contest between Stanhope Elmore High and Eufaula Friday night, Mustang fans were jubilant after defensive end William Whitlow showed why he is a legitimate Division 1 prospect. On the game’s first play, Whitlow ripped the ball out of the hands of the Eufaula running back, and then outraced the other Tigers 40-yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Stanhope Elmore led 6-0 before most fans were settled in their seats.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, their next touchdown didn’t come until there were 2 minutes left and the game was out of reach. In between those scores, the Mustangs failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities once the ball was in Eufaula territory.
Meanwhile, the Tigers showed why many media outlets selected them as the best group of wide receivers in the state. Eufaula quarterback Hess Horne operated a sophisticated passing offense, spreading the ball around to Division 1 prospect Rodarius Thomas, as well as sure handed receivers Jamarian Lewis, Ethan Black, and Devin Fuller.
After the turnover on the first play of the game, the Eufaula offense scored touchdowns on three straight possessions. The Tigers answered the Mustangs score with a quick strike of their own, with Horne completing a 30-yard pass on the first play, and Lewis capping off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Stanhope Elmore quarterback Trey Killingsworth responded on the Mustangs’ first offensive possession, completing a 20-yard pass to receiver Jackson Thomas, and another two passes to Teddy Harris. The Mustangs were in business and moving the ball, when an errant shotgun snap caused the Mustangs to lose 10-yards on the play and force a punt. It was the first of many self-inflicted wounds on the night.
The Mustangs were able to get off an excellent punt that rolled down to the Eufaula 4-yard line. Trailing by one point late in the 1st quarter, with the Tigers backed up, the Mustang defense was looking to stuff the run and get the ball back to their offense with good field position. However, Fuller broke through the line for Eufaula and raced down the sideline 96-yards for a touchdown, putting the Tigers up 14-6.
Stanhope Elmore was not able to muster anything on their next offensive possession, and quickly gave the ball back to the Tigers. This time, it looked like the Mustangs’ defense was finally going to hold the high powered Eufaula offense to a punt, when just before the end of the 1st quarter, Whitlow man-handled the Eufaula ball carrier, powerfully slinging him to the ground. The referees flagged Whitlow for a face mask, drawing the ire of the Mustangs’ fans and even leading Coach Brian Bradford to call a timeout with one second left to discuss the penalty with the refs. The second chance was all the Tigers needed, as Horne completed a 20-yard pass on the next play, and Lewis followed it up with a rushing touchdown, putting the Tigers ahead 21-6.
On the next possession, Harris moved to quarterback for Stanhope Elmore High and ran the ball out of the wildcat formation a couple times, picking up 45 yards on two rushes. If the Mustang fans were upset at the defensive penalty that gave Eufaula a first down that led to a touchdown, they were exasperated when the refs called back a Stanhope Elmore touchdown for a holding penalty at the goal line. The 10-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 10-yard line. On the next play, the Mustangs lost 19-yards on a high shotgun snap, and faced a 4th and goal from the 29-yard line. The Mustangs turned the ball over on downs, and missed an opportunity to cut the Eufaula lead to a touchdown.
Trailing 21-6 heading into the 2nd half, the Stanhope Elmore defense showed inspiring resilience, managing to stop the Eufaula offense on all three 3rd quarter possessions. The first two Stanhope Elmore High offensive possessions both reached Eufaula territory, but both ended in lost fumbles. The Mustangs’ third 3rd quarter possession ended without picking up a first down.
After a scoreless 3rd quarter, the Mustangs defense couldn’t hold the Tigers any longer. Eufaula converted a 4th and 4 at the Stanhope Elmore 25-yard line, and later punched in a touchdown early in the 4th quarter.
The next Mustangs drive ended in a fumble, the third lost fumble in the 2nd half. Eufaula responded with a drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Black.
The Mustangs were able to score the final touchdown of the game when Killingsworth rushed the ball from the Tiger 5-yard. He fumbled at the goal line, but this time, the Mustangs were able to recover in the end zone, completing the scoring for the night at 35-13.
Killingsworth went 9 for 20 for 101 yards. The Mustangs rushing attack struggled on the night. Three different ball carriers rushed 24 times for 86 yards, with 65 of those yards coming on three plays.
For the season, the Mustangs record falls to 3-3 (2-1 in Class 6A Region 3). Stanhope Elmore has an important region game next week as they travel to Calera, looking for their first road win of the season. Calera is officially 3-2 on the season, with two of those wins coming by forfeit. Their only on the field win this season was a 14-12 victory at Chilton County. The Mustangs defeated Chilton County a week later 47-0.
The Mustangs are currently third in Class 6A Region 3. However, the two remaining teams unbeaten in region play will face off next week as Pelham travels to Wetumpka.