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Linden beats Billingsley in region clash

LINDEN — Linden had a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter, with visiting Billingsley driving deep into Patriot territory. On fourth down and inches to go for a first down at the LHS 14-yard line, BHS running back Jamar Hopson took the ball and ran into a swarm of Linden players. Linden took possession, drove the length of the field, and scored on a 15-yard run by Maurice Tate.

That was one of a number of big plays made by the homestanding Patriots, who beat Billingsley 27-26, capping the game with an interception by Larente Taylor in the final minute of the game.

“We talk about eliminating the big play,” said LHS head coach Andro Williams. “We gave up three tonight. We’ve got to do a better job of making sure we know what we want to do defensively. But, our defense still stepped up big. I found out what kind of football team we have tonight, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, for it to come out the way it came out. You have to battle down the stretch. That’s what it’s all about; it’s about winning big football games.”

It looked as though Linden (5-0 overall, 4-0 in Class 1A Region 3) would have its hands full, as Hopson returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. He also kicked the extra point to give the Bears (3-2, 3-2 1A-3) an early 7-0 lead.

Linden responded with an eight-yard TD run by Tate, tying the game at 7-7 with 2:21 left in the first quarter.

After exchanging drives, Linden began from its 44-yard line and used a BHS facemask penalty to move to the Bears’ 39. Tate took another romp, a 16-yard touchdown run, giving the Patriots a 14-7 lead with 7:02 left in the second quarter.

Linden was driving, but lost a fumble at the Bears’ 34-yard line, and Billingsley was able to take advantage, scoring on a 63-yard pass from Mario Reese to Jay Tyus to knot the game at 14-14 with 1:06 left in the half.

Billingsley scored on its first possession of the second half on an 11-yard run by Hopson. His extra-point kick attempt went low, rattling around the ankles of the front line, but BHS had a 20-14 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Linden drove the ball down the field, scoring when Ajalon Bruno ran 13 yards into the endzone. Gerald Bruno’s extra-point kick gave the Patriots the lead for good, 21-20, with 5:45 left in the third quarter.

Billingsley then began a drive from its own 42-yard line after an onside kick, The Bears were stopped on fourth-and-inches by a staunch Linden defense with 2:29 left in the third quarter.

The Patriots marched down the field, scoring on a 15-yard Tate run. The point-after attempts was a comedy of errors, as Linden was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the touchdown, then called for illegal procedure on the point-after attempt, placing the ball at the 23-yard line. The pass attempt failed, but BHS was called for holding, then Linden was called for illegal procedure, placing the ball at the 18. The pass attempt failed again, but Linden held a 27-20 lead with 10:03 left in the game.

Billingsley scored again, as Reese connected with Tyus again, this time on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Billingsley was forced to call its final timeout when the Bears appeared unsure of which point-after play it wanted to try: a kick to tie the game or a conversion to take the lead. The extra-point kick by Hopson went wide, and Linden held a 27-26 lead with 4:39 left in the game.

Linden marched down the field, but lost the ball on downs at the BHS 7-yard line with 2:16 remaining. Billingsley methodically gained ground, despite having no timeouts remaining, but on second-and-10, Reese threw a pass towards Linden’s sideline. Taylor dove towards the sideline and hauled it in, effectively ending the game with 18.6 seconds left.

For Linden, Tate ended with 137 yards rushing on 23 carries with three touchdowns. Shantrell Braxton had 119 yards on 18 carries.

For Billingsley, Hopson had 169 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, including his kickoff return for a TD. Reese was 5-for-14 for 101 yards and two touchdowns, with both scoring passes going to Tyus, who had four receptions for 93 yards.

“We needed this. We needed this right now, in this part of the season, because we haven’t really been in a ball game, where it came down to the wire and we had to make some plays. Our defense bowed up and made three or four big plays tonight.

“Billingsley’s got a great football team,” he said. “I knew they were going to be physical. They’ve got big backs, and they did a real good job with what they’re trying to do offensively. We just made the plays when we had to make the plays.”

Linden faces another Region 3 showdown this Friday when the Patriots travel to Maplesville (4-0, 4-0 1A-3) in a battle for the lead in the region standings.

“I like the situation we’re in, having played a good football team, going into the Maplesville game,” Williams said. “I want to see how we’re going to respond. We know we’re going to have to pick our business up next week. We just have to be ready to go.”

Billingsley hosts regional rival Akron on Friday.