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A.L. Johnson gets by Marengo

DIXON’S MILL — The game between county rivals A.L. Johnson and Marengo High School looked more like a playoff game than a game to close out the regular season. The host Panthers got on the scoreboard first, but the Eagles were able to keep their composure and come out with a 20-12 win.

Neither team scored in the first quarter, but just before the end of the first period, Marengo senior Quinton Watkins took a 24-yard run to the ALJ 13-yard line. Two plays later, he brought it the rest of the way to the goal line to get the Panthers on the board. The point-after attempt was no good, but Marengo held a 6-0 lead with 11:09 left in the second quarter.

A.L. Johnson (6-4) was forced to punt the ball away, and the Eagles were able to down the ball at the MHS 1. The Panthers lost a fumble on their 3, and three plays later, freshman Castillo Huggins took a one-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles on the board. Richard McGhee ran the two-point conversion, and A.L. Johnson led 8-6 with 6:24 left in the second quarter.

As the first half came to a close, ALJ quarterback Kejuan McGhee put the ball up into the end zone, but Marengo’s James Bennett came down with it to squelch the Eagles’ scoring attempt and leave the halftime score at 8-6.

A.L. Johnson returned the favor on the first play of the second half, as Eric Calhoun picked off a Marengo pass and returned it 33 yards to the MHS 40. Two plays later, Richard McGhee took an 18-yard run into the end zone. The conversion failed, but A.L. Johnson had a 14-6 lead with 10:35 left in the third quarter.

Marengo (3-6) then set up a scoring drive, moving the ball 71 yards over 13 plays. Workhorse Marcus Richardson rant he ball 11 times in that drive for 59 yards, capping the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion failed, but the Panthers had cut the ALJ lead to 14-12 with 3:12 left in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Marengo began another drive in earnest, starting from its own 10-yard line. The Panthers used a 28-yard run from De’Andre Langhorne to get to midfield. There, the Eagle defense stood its ground. On fourth-and-3, the Panthers went for the first down, but were stopped less than a yard from the sticks, giving A.L. Johnson the ball.

A 51-yard run from Huggins gave the Eagles the ball at the MHS 4, and Demetrius Davis took it the rest of the way on a TD run with 3:41 left in the fourth quarter. The conversion failed, but the scoring remained at 20-12 for the final.

A.L. Johnson was led by Huggins, who had 93 yards on eight rushes with one touchdown. Marengo was led by Watkins, who had 95 yards on 11 carries and one TD, and Richardson, who had 80 yards on 24 rushes and a TD.

The Eagles open the 2009 playoffs at Winterboro (7-3).

“This was a good, hard-fought ballgame,” said ALJ head coach Mose Jones. “This has been a great rivalry. I’ve been coming out here with these guys going all the way back to ’69.

“This was just an outstanding game. Coming down through the week, I’d been telling (our players) that it was going to come down to the wire, and that’s just what happened. Coach Rutherford’s got an outstanding group.”

Marengo closes head coach James Rutherford’s first season at 3-6.

“We just lack senior leadership,” he said. “When you don’t have leadership on your team, you’re not going to be very good. We are really, really young. Eight or nine of our starters are ninth-, 10th-, 11th-grade kids. We don’t have many seniors out there.”