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Longhorns get landmark win over PCA

LINDEN — In a game that came down to the closing seconds, Marengo Academy (5-3, 3-1) pulled its biggest victory of the season with a 22-15 win over Prattville Christian Academy (5-3, 2-2) Thursday night.

“Where I am right now, it was a monumental win to beat a team like that in AAA with as many players as they have,” first-year Marengo Academy head coach Robby James said following the game. “I’ve won championships, but where I am now, this one ranks right up there with all of them.”

James’ strategy going into the game was to play a clock control offense and keep PCA’s explosive attack on the sidelines as much as possible. That approach proved successful on the Longhorns’ opening drive. After MA recovered an onside kick to start the game, the Longhorns utilized nine plays to go 52 yards and eat nearly five minutes off the clock before taking the early lead. On the drive’s final play, quarterback Matt Wallace hooked up with Wood Collins for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Wallace then found Trevor Johnson in the end zone for the two-point conversion, giving MA the 8-0 lead.

Marengo appeared to have all the momentum when Wallace picked off a pass from PCA quarterback Dylan Bruner just three plays into the ensuing possession. However, the fever pitch on the Longhorns sideline was short lived as Prattville forced and recovered a fumble at the Longhorn 10 one play later.

It took four plays for Panther fullback Andrew Brackins to score on a 2-yard run.

“That big fullback is a hard-running kid,” James said of Brackins. The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving MA with the 8-6 lead with 4:16 to go in the first quarter.

Both teams had difficulty moving the ball for the remainder of the half. Trevor Johnson helped the Marengo cause defensively, stealing a Prattville Chistian possession by alertly recovering a muffed punt at the Panther 29.

“We fought hard. We didn’t really move the ball very well,” James said. “We did some things to hand in the ball game. They’re explosive (on offense.)”

That explosiveness was on display early in the third quarter as the Panthers used only three plays to go 68 yards and take their first lead of the game. On the final plays of the drive, Bruner hit Richard Long for a 58-yard touchdown pass. The conversion attempt failed, leaving PCA up 12-8.

Prattville Christian stymied the Longhorn offense for most of the second half and appeared ready to pull away in the third quarter when it recovered a fumble at the MA 15. After a clipping penalty negated a touchdown run, Johnson came up big again for the Horns, stepping in front of a Panther receiver and taking Bruner’s pass the other way to get MA out of harm’s way.

Prattville eventually stretched its lead midway through the fourth quarter when Joshua Jones connected on a 29-yard field goal with 7:24 to play. That gave PCA a 15-8 lead.

Matt Etheridge returned the next punt to his own 28 before Collins struck again with a tremendous individual effort; this time catching a Wallace pass in the flat and rumbling down the sideline and through a handful of would-be Panther tacklers for a 31-yard gain. On the next play, Hunter Crouch took his first carry of the game into the heart of the PCA defense, delivered a blow to a Panther linebacker and bounced it to the outside for a 42-yard touchdown run.

“That was a fine run right there,” James said of Crouch, a player he generally attempts to use only on defense due to lack of depth. “I may have to start running him more.” Chris Sammons added the extra point to tie the game at 15 with 6:29 to go in the game.

Two plays into the ensuing PCA possession, Sammons ripped the ball from the clutches of a Panther player. Matthew Martin dove on the loose ball, turning possession back over to the Longhorns.

The Panther defense forced a three-and-out, sending Wallace back to punt. His kick put PCA at its own 20. On the only play of the possession, Alan Flowers delivered a punishing blow that separated Brackins from the ball and allowed Devin Walker to come up with the game-chaning recovery.

Two plays into the possession, Wallace hit Collins over the middle for what appeared a short yardage again. Collins — who ended his night with four catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns — showed his grit again, turning upfield and pulling away from a series of tacklers on his way to the end zone and a Longhorn lead.

“Wood, with that last catch and run was awesome,” James said of the play that proved the difference for Marengo.

Sammons added the point after, giving MA the 22-15 lead with 3:41 to play.

The kickoff caromed off one of the PCA blockers and back into Longhorn possession, giving MA the chance to run the clock.

“What we told (kicker Matthew Martin) to do was just squib the ball right there,” James said. “It hit one of them and we got it. It could not have worked out any better for us.”

While the Longhorns gained nothing on the possession, they forced PCA to use all three of its timeouts and penned the Panthers at their own 4 on the ensuing punt.

The Panthers then used 14 plays to go 80 yards. With 6.4 seconds to play in the game, Bruner took the snap at the Longhorn 16, absorbed the blow from a charging Walker and flung the ball downfield where Flowers batted it to the turf, sealing the win for Marengo.

“I think it’s just great for our kids to be able to experience that,” James said. “They just hang in there. I don’t know how.”

The win leaves MA with sole possession of second place in Class AAA, Region 2.

“Right now, we’re sitting pretty good in the region,” James said of his team, which still must contend with Tuscaloosa Academy and Bessemer Academy. “We could end up not only in the playoffs, but maybe hosting a game if we can win one of those.”