WALNUT GROVE — There were no weather-related delays this week, but Apalachee’s Friday, Sept. 20 game against Walnut Grove proved tougher than some may have expected.
After officially posting its first win of 2019 six days earlier against Jackson County in a game that spanned two days due to the weather, the Wildcats notched another victory, rallying for a 20-3 road win against the Warriors
The win certainly was not easy, as it was Walnut Grove that took a 3-0 lead into intermission.
“We have to fix how we come out and start games,” said Apalachee coach Tony Lotti. “I was very proud of our second-half effort. We have a week off and then things will start for real.”
The Wildcats (2-3) appeared to receive the halftime locker room message about their overall poor first half performance loud and clear as Shaan Cook returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. It was the first lead of the night for AHS.
“That sparked us,” Lotti said. “We executed that return very well.”
Cook was one of the offensive leaders for the Wildcats in the win.
“I knew at halftime we needed to get on track,” Cook said. “We had a slow start and I tried to do what I could to turn things around.”
Now finding itself behind on the scoreboard, Walnut Grove (0-4) began its first drive of the second half in good field position following a return to its 45-yard line.
The Warrior coaches, who at times took verbal bombs from some of their fans concerning conservative play calling, saw their team move inside the Wildcat 30 before facing a fourth-and-12 where they elected to punt.
The punt went out of bounds at the AHS 6 but the Wildcats benefited from a facemask penalty during the play to start the possession at the 21.
Looking to seize control of the contest, offensive coordinator David Seawright’s group put together its best drive so far in the contest, picking up three first downs. Cook attempted to overcome a chop block call racing 57 yards to the end zone but AHS was called for a block in the back on that play.
Those two penalties stopped the drive forcing a punt attempt on fourth and 25.
AHS took the 7-3 lead into the fourth quarter and finally obtained some breathing room on a 46-yard run by Colby Sikes. The point-after kick failed as the score remained 13-3.
Quarterback AJ Forbing’s 2-yard keeper with 2:16 left secured the victory.
Turnovers, defensive stops and penalties would each play big roles in the game’s first half. Walnut Grove took the game’s opening kickoff, but the AHS defense forced a three-and-out.
The Wildcats began their first series on their own 23-yard-line but the Warriors intercepted a pass attempt at the 40 on their side of the field. WGHS put together a quality drive moving into AHS territory stalling at 24 and missing left on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
The Warriors were back in business, however, on the following play as they recovered a fumble at the Wildcat 17. Apalachee’s defense rose up again forcing another field attempt which was converted from 28 yards this time by Jake Smith with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
Cook seemed to spark the AHS offense with a 19-yard run on a well-designed misdirection play on the third series of the first half. However, this drive would also end on a turnover as Walnut Grove secured another interception at its 26.
The Chee defense, coordinated by Mike Hancock, forced another three-and-out after the interception and the Wildcats took back over at their 36. Walnut Grove’s defense rose up once again with a three-and-out of its own.
A 76-yard touchdown run by Cook was called back due to a holding penalty with 4:51 remaining before halftime. The Wildcats would then punt two plays later.
The Warriors, who were coming off a lopsided loss to county rival Monroe Area, seemed to play inspired football in the first half. Walnut Grove also ended the first half with the football in AHS territory.
Both defenses were strong in the first half as only four first downs combined were obtained, with just one by the Wildcats.
AHS is off Friday, Sept. 27, and will travel to Winder-Barrow High School Friday, Oct. 4, to begin GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA play in another chapter of the gridiron Battle of Barrow County.
Lotti said the players will have Monday off before beginning work on the game plan for WBHS.
A 0 0 7 13 — 20
W 3 0 0 0 — 3
W—Jake Smith 28 FG
A—Shaan Cook 85 kickoff return (Adrian Lopez kick)
A—Colby Sikes 46 run (kick failed)
A—AJ Forbing 2 run (Lopez kick)