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DaMarcus James leads DHS past Bryant on 18th birthday

TUSCALOOSA — DaMarcus James turned in an inspired performance on his 18th birthday to help Demopolis (4-2, 4-0) overcome two costly first half miscues in the Tigers 21-17 win over Region 3 foe Paul Bryant (3-3, 2-2) Friday night.

“He ran harder tonight than he has all year long,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said of his workhorse back, who finished the night with 169 yards on 29 carries. “He kind of put the team on his back tonight. If we get him going, the team will go. It’s not just the offense, it’s the defense too.”

James came up with his longest play of the night on a kick return after the Stampede nailed a 45-yard field goal to go up 17-14 with 4:01 remaining in the game. James’ 41-yard return set his team up at its own 46. Six plays later, he followed up a 37-yard James Wilson catch with a one-yard touchdown plunge to put Demopolis up 20-17.

“We just came of a big loss last week. We got behind and everybody’s eyes started to fall, so I had to step up,” James said of the game-winning drive that began and ended with his legs.

Cameron Fendley added the extra point to give force Paul Bryant to play for the touchdown with a four-point deficit and 1:48 remaining on the game clock.

On Paul Bryant’s only play of its ensuing possession, DHS defensive end Neilson Renner snatched Stampede pass from the air and returned it to the PBHS 16 to seal the game.

“It was big,” Causey said of the play. “He’s been close on some plays like that and he picked a good time to make one.”

The turnover was the only one of the night forced by the Tigers, who committed two devastating ones of their own in the first half.

With its third possession of the third quarter Demopolis drove 58 yards on five plays, getting the bulk of it on a 41-yard pass to Jerry Campbell. Quarterback Ben Pettus iced the drive himself with a 10-yard scoring run to put DHS on the board.

Demopolis quickly forced a three-and-out but watched the game turn when a Bryant corner grabbed a tipped ball off the hands of a DHS receiver and sprinted 37 yards to paydirt to tie the game.

Demopolis’ defense continued to prove stingy but still found itself in dire straits after a muffed punt gave Bryant the ball at the DHS 4. It took four downs, but the Stampede ultimately pushed its way into the end zone to take a 14-7 lead to the locker room despite amassing only 69 yards of total offense in the first half.

Demopolis made the most of its opening possession of the third quarter when it covered 85 yards on 11 plays, pounding it against the Bryant front seven with its battering ram back James on seven snaps during the drive.

“The crowd is into it and everybody is into the game, you’ve got to keep it going,” James said of the emotion of the drive.

The final snap of the possession saw Campbell put six on the scoreboard with a 17-yard run on a pitch from Pettus. Fendley’s extra-point tied the game at 14.

“We needed this,” Causey said. “We needed a win like this.”

Reid Barkley led the defense with 10 total tackles while Matt Barger added seven and a pass deflection. David France tallied six total tackles with two pass break-ups.

Demopolis, who hosts rival Greenville next week in what essentially serves as a de facto region championship game, put together 357 yards of total offense while holding Bryant to only 181.

Pettus finished the night with 123 yards passing and added 47 yard rushing on seven carries.