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Tigers survive another close one, move to 4-1

Demopolis (4-1, 1-1) played what head coach Tom Causey considered an intense four quarters of football Friday en route to a 25-20 win over 6A Hillcrest (2-3).

“They’re now sitting there at 2-3 and I guarantee you this, they are not a 2-3 football team,” Causey said of a Patriot squad that amassed 201 yards through the air on the night.

The Tigers established the tone out of the gate, penning Hillcrest back at its own 8 on the opening kickoff before applying heavy pressure to quarterback Jared Pratt and forcing an incompletion on the first play from scrimmage. On the second play from scrimmage, the Tiger defense got itself off the field when middle linebacker Michael Davis popped the HHS runner, jarring the ball loose and into the clutches of strong safety Tremaine Irby.

The recovery set DHS up at the Hillcrest 5. Three plays later, Davis finished what he started with a one-yard touchdown run. Matt Sellers added the point after to put Demopolis up 7-0 just 1:35 into the game.

Demopolis then forced a quick three-and-out on its next defensive stand, punctuating the possession with a Martaze Jackson sack, the senior defensive end’s first of two on the night. After partially blocking the punt attempt, Demopolis took over at the Hillcrest 24.

Four plays later, Jeremy Wallace bounced around the right side and darted into the end zone from six yards out to stretch the lead to 13-0 with 7:21 to go in the first quarter.

The first signs of HIllcrest life came late in the first quarter when a Patriot defensive back broke a Tiger pass that appeared destined to find turf. The interception set the Pats up only 27 yards away from the Demopolis end zone. Hillcrest parlayed that turnover into points when Pratt found an open target in the end zone from 10 yards away on the first play of the second quarter. The successful point after made it 13-7.

Demopolis was stagnant on its next possession, gaining only five yards before punting.

The Patriots capitalized on the momentum shift, marching 68 yards on 11 plays to take a 14-13 lead with 4:39 remaining in the first half.

On its final possession of the second quarter, Demopolis showed its resolve. On the ninth play of the drive, Ben Pettus connected with Larry Cobb for a 22-yard touchdown. That score was quickly negated by a blocking infraction, moving DHS back to the Hillcrest 25 for a pivotal third and long. Pettus then fired over the middle to Wallace who made the catch at the 12 despite absorbing a crushing blow from a Patriot defensive back. the play sustained the momentum of the drive, eventually leading Pettus to renew his connection with Cobb from five yards away to hand Demopolis the 19-14 lead.

The teams traded possessions multiple times for a scoreless third quarter. Demopolis established its dominance in the run game on its first drive of the fourth period. On a crucial fourth down and one from its own 35, Demopolis opted to keep its offense on the field. The teams exchanged timeouts in an apparent chess match before Davis rerouted a Patriot linebacker and rumble seven yards to keep the drive alive. From there, Demopolis proceeded to pound the ball, handing the ball to James the next six plays and watching the junior deliver a succession of punishing runs on his way to a 16-yard score to cap the drive.

“We didn’t really come out of that locker room (at halftime) thinking about pounding it,” Causey said. “Once we started putting together drives, that’s when they started getting tired.”

The run left DHS with a 25-14 lead with four minutes left on the clock. Undeterred, Pratt led his team back down the field. Continually pressured and rolling away from pursuit, the senior QB engineered a nine-play, 79-yard drive, putting Hillcrest within striking distance on an eight-yard TD pass. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Patriots behind 25-20 with 2:22 to play.

Demopolis came away with the ensuing onside kick attempt and proceeded to run out the clock with a steady diet of James carries.

“Our team, every aspect of the game, played with intensity for 48 minutes,” Causey said. “We played with it all night.”

The win came just one week after Demopolis fell at home to region foe Carver and capped a week of practice in which Causey said many of his players matured into leaders.

“You did a great job of rebounding from a tough loss,” he told his team following the game. “You came out here and showed your class and showed your character.”

James led the way for the offense, totaling 218 yards on 25 carries. As a team, the Tigers had 311 yards of offense.

Defensively, Davis played his most complete game since taking over the middle linebacker position. He tallied nine total tackles including seven solos while deflecting one pass and forcing a fumble on the night.

“Mike was a little banged up and played the whole game that way,” Causey said of Davis. “I think he stepped up on our defense as a leader tonight. He’s got to be able to do that if we’re going to win.”