By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For 48 minutes on Friday night in Fairview, West Point’s Wesley Smith and Tate Duckett were the toughest guys on the turf, breaking tackles, making tackles and dishing out punishment.
But mere seconds after the clock struck zero, sealing the Warriors’ 31-26 victory over their heated in-county rival, all both players could do was cry.
The tears were bittersweet. Half were for the joy of upsetting the Aggies for a second year in a row, but the rest came at the realization that West Point’s seniors had played their final football game while draped in maroon and white.
What a way to go out.
The Warriors piled on 361 rushing yards, took advantage of four Fairview turnovers and made enough defensive stops when it mattered most to cap off a rough 2012 campaign with a win on a night that coach A.J. Lamar told his seniors, “You will never forget for the rest of their lives.”
“This was our playoff game. We were playing like it was the state championship,” Smith said. “They’re a good ball team, and we came out and practiced hard all week. When you get the reps in and you know what they’re going to do every play, you can make plays. Our coaches did a good job this week.”
West Point’s triple-option rushing attack gave Fairview fits all night, racking up big gain after big gain from the get-go.
After falling on an Aggie fumble at their own 11, Kobe Smith, Tristan Dubberly and Duckett marched the ball down the field, putting Kristian Chappell in position to bust through the middle on what turned out to be the go-ahead score on a 3-yard touchdown run.
Dubberly added another score from the same distance in the second half. Four Warriors tallied at least 48 rushings yard and West Point ended the night with five carries of 35-or-more yards.
No player touted more rushing yards than Duckett, who finished with 126 after going off for 101 and a touchdown on his 11 second-half attempts. More important than reaching triple-digits to the senior was his fourth-quarter interception of Luke Bailey.
“That was just big. I need one all year and I got it finally,” Duckett said. “And he’s a great quarterback.”
The next two rushers behind Duckett were Kobe Smith with 87 yards and Farley with 74. Both were forced to exit early with injuries, but not before making lasting impacts on the ballgame.
Farley scampered in untouched for a 38-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, and Smith was a first-half work horse to set up many of the Warriors’ scoring opportunities, including Tyler Smith’s 31-yard field goal, also in the second quarter.
Dubberly needed only four carries to compile 48 yards.
Wesley Smith brought his big-boy boot in the punting game but made his biggest contribution at tight end. Facing a fourth-and-long with Fairview keeping it close early in the third quarter, the senior caught the ball near the line of scrimmage, plowed ahead and dragged a defender just far enough for the first down. Chappell scored his second touchdown shortly thereafter.
“The will to win, the want to win,” Smith said of what drove him on that crucial play. “I had good players around me blocking very well. It wasn’t just me. It was my team.”
The Aggies were able to stay within a score or two throughout the whole ballgame, but they were never quite able to tie or overtake their rival.
Justin Bryan helped Fairview find the scoreboard with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and Bailey had a hand in the other team’s three scores, reaching the end zone on runs of 10 and 17, as well as on a 22-yard pass to Bryant Powers.
The Purple and Gold didn’t have many problems moving the chains but turned the ball over at the most inopportune times to allow West Point to stay on top.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make to win. We had opportunities throughout the whole night where we could’ve done some things to change the momentum of the game, and we just didn’t do it,” coach George Redding said. “Fumbles. False starts. Missed tackles. Missed assignments. Overthrown passes. Dropped passes. All those things we did throughout the night, you’re just not going to win games that way.”
Redding said his players must put the loss behind them in a hurry with Munford heading to town for a first-round playoff game next Friday. The loss dropped the Aggies regular-season record to 7-3.
“The best thing to do is have a short memory,” he said. “The postseason is a new season for everybody. There’s no losses. Everybody starts over fresh.”
After all the Warriors endured in a difficult Class 5A, Region 8 full of powerhouses, Duckett was ready to welcome a victory with open arms.
“We had to overcome adversity all year,” he said, full of emotion. “We came out with a win. I just want to love everybody who supported us all year, every game, they were there. Seniors, I love each and every one of them.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.