By Scott Nickerson, EAN Sportswriter
Having played on the same field against the same team six weeks earlier, the Stanhope Elmore Mustangs football team knew a few things they were going to have to do to have a chance against the Eufaula Tigers in the 1st Round of the Class 6A Playoffs. The Tigers feature a high-powered passing offense led by quarterback Hess Horne and wide receiver Rodarius Thomas, who is committed to play next season at the University of South Carolina. A competitive game against a team with so many offensive weapons was going to require big defensive plays on 3rd down to force punts, one thing the Mustangs didn’t do in the first matchup. It was also going to require big offensive plays to put points on the scoreboard, another thing the Mustangs did not do in the first matchup, when they lost 35-13, with one of those scores coming from a defensive touchdown.
Prior to the end of the 3rd quarter, the Mustangs defense had forced Eufaula into a turnover or punt on eight different possessions, an impressive feat for a team with so many offensive weapons. On offense, the Mustangs saw a breakout game from Junior wide receiver DJ McGhee, who scored an 83-yard rushing touchdown, a 21-yard touchdown reception, and an 80-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass. Despite this improved effort compared to the first matchup, the outcome was the same, with Eufaula winning 52-28, and ending the Mustangs’ football season.
The fact that Eufaula scored so many points was not an indictment on the defense. They were stopped eight different possessions. The telling fact is that Eufaula had so many possessions because other than McGhee’s three big plays for touchdowns, the Mustangs were not able to move the ball. The Mustangs were unable to run the ball with sophomore running back Antonio Trone totaling nine carries through the first 3 quarters for 0 yards. Instead, the Mustangs turned to the passing game, and consecutive incompletions stopped the clock and extended the game.
Receiving the opening kickoff, the Mustang defense not only held Eufaula on the opening drive, but senior William Whitlow blocked the Tigers punt, giving the Mustangs the ball 42-yards away from the end zone. The Mustangs were not able to convert the field position into points, and Eufaula started a long drive that ended in an interception on the Mustang 11-yard line. A couple plays later, McGhee took a reverse 83-yards for a touchdown, putting Stanhope Elmore up 7-0 halfway through the 1st quarter.
For the 3rd time in the 1st quarter, the Mustang defense again held Eufaula, forcing a punt which rolled to the Stanhope Elmore 1-yard line. After moving the ball a few yards, the Mustangs did an option play near the goal line. Trone was not able to handle the pitch, and the ball fell in the end zone. Killingsworth fell on the ball and the Tigers earned two points on a safety. They received the ball and on the next possession, found Thomas, the South Carolina commit for a 42-yard touchdown to go up 9-7.
After both teams were unable to get anything going, Whitlow blocked another punt, again setting the Mustangs up with good field position. This time, they took advantage, and Killingsworth found McGhee for a touchdown pass on 4th and 12, putting the Mustangs ahead 14-9. It would be their last lead of the game, and it did not last long, as the Tigers returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Mustangs 2-yard line, with McGhee, who had just caught the touchdown pass, running down the Tigers ball carrier. After two failed rushing attempts, the Eufaula quarterback did a play action and found a receiver in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. A two-point conversion put the Tigers ahead 17-14.
The Mustangs had the ball two different times late in the 2nd quarter and down by three points, with a chance go into the half down just one possession. However, both possessions lasted less than 30 seconds, ending with three straight incompletions, and it was just enough time for the Tigers to get another score before the half to go up by 10 at 24-14.
It seemed to be a tough blow to a Mustang team that had stayed with the high-powered Eufaula offense most of the game. Getting the ball first in the 2nd half, Killingsworth found McGhee for a screen pass, and he ran 80-yards for a touchdown, to cut the Eufaula lead to 24-21.
The Tigers responded quickly with a 34-yard pass to Thomas, and Horne followed that up with a 16-yard touchdown pass. In less than 90-seconds, the lead was back to 10 points. The Mustang defense was able to hold Eufaula on another possession late in the 3rd quarter, which ended with a Eufaula lead at 31-21.
The Mustangs offense was not able to get anything going. After McGhee’s touchdown to start the 2nd half, the Mustangs completed only one pass for six yards on the next eight attempts. The Mustangs scored a late 4th quarter touchdown for a final score of 52-28.
Stanhope Elmore High’s season ends in the 1st round of the Class 6A Playoffs for the third time in four years. The Mustangs finished the season at 5-6. For Head Coach Brian Bradford, he has led the Mustangs to the playoffs in all four years, and has accumulated a record of 25 – 20.
Playing his last game for the Mustangs was standout defensive end William Whitlow, who is committed to play next season for Memphis. The Mustangs will return several players in 2021 at important skill positions, to include McGhee and Jackson Thomas at wide receiver, along with Trone at running back. SEE MORE PHOTOS BELOW