“It was basically a come to Jesus meeting,” Bullock said. “We were getting embarrassed in our own stadium. We were getting embarrassed, not so much by what the other team was doing to us, but from mistakes that we were making we were getting out of character.”
The Bulldogs didn’t simply listen intently to their leader’s words; eventually they did what he said. After trailing by 10 at the break and 17 in the third, the Bulldogs forced three turnovers and scored 27 points, pulling away with a victory on a 72-yard touchdown pass on a screen pass from quarterback Spencer Howard to running back Troymaine Pope with 2:19 to play. The win all but wrapped up their second Class 4A, Region 6 title in as many years under Bullock.
And he hadn’t unloaded all his preaching points either.
“The reason we won this game is because ya’ll persevered,” he said as his team congregated around the 50-yard line, following the win which upped their record to 5-3, 5-1 in region play. “I told ya’ll I was going to look into your eyes to see if you were going to quit.”
And quit they didn’t.
The Bulldogs looked to trim their deficit down to three when Howard found Denzel Roberts over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8 with 6:54, but Oneonta blocked Anniston’s extra-point attempt to stay ahead 31-27.
Oneonta (6-2, 4-2) opened the ensuing drive on its own 35 and looked to seal the game and an outright region title, marching the ball all the way down to the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, but Anniston’s Tevin Davis recovered a fumble on a botched handoff exchange between Oneonta quarterback Schyler Walker and running back Terrell McDaniel that gave the Bulldogs one more shot with the ball on their own 28 and 3:07 to play.
Much like the Bulldogs, Davis was down early when he took a shot in the first quarter. “I just got my bell rung,” the 6-foot, 215-pound sophomore said.
Commenting on his big fumble recovery, he said: “I just did my job, I saw the ball, picked it up and ran off.”
The Bulldogs handed the ball off to Pope on first-down but he was immediately dropped for a 4-yard loss. Then on second, Howard dropped back and floated a pass toward Pope.
Surrounded by blockers, Pope, a first-team all-state selection in 2010, made one move to elude Oneonta’s Jalen Johnson then cut it outside.
He beat Alvin Scott, who’d hawked him down from behind on two big gains earlier in the game, to the end zone for what wound up being the game-winner.
“I was trying to score and put my team on top,” Pope said. “My offensive line blocked well. They had the defenders shielded. I gave No. 4 a move, he bit on it and I scored.”
Pope finished with 172 yards on 26 carries and added three catches for 117 yards and two scores.
Anniston will travel to Jacksonville (1-7, 1-5) for its final region matchup before hosting Briarwood Christian in the regular season finale, and Oneonta will host Cleburne County.
The 6-2 Roberts, a safety on defense, put the finishing touches on Oneonta with a leaping interception near midfield as Walker looked for Alvin Scott, his favorite target.
“I just cheated over, came over the top and got the pick,” Roberts said. He also added an 8-yard rushing touchdown on an end-around which pulled the Bulldogs to within three at 24-21 with 11:52 to play after a Frederick Jordan interception to end the third gave them the ball deep in Oneonta territory.
Walker found Alvin Scott, who had five catches for 74 yards and two scores, for a 5-yard TD pass with 9:36 remaining to put Oneonta up 31-21.
Bullock described Howard’s performance in the fourth-quarter comeback as “his breakout game.” His 12-yard touchdown run with 1:14 to play in the third started Anniston’s comeback, making the score 24-14.
“Spencer is capable of doing it,” Bullock said. “But I have told Spencer no more babying him and patting him on the back. He has to step up and lead this football team because he’s got the ability, he’s fast and he’s a very smart kid. He plays too cautious and he thinks too much about what he has to do.
“Tonight, I wasn’t coming over saying, ‘Hey, you just come on and do this’. It was like, ‘This is what you better do. You need to step it up because we won’t have a chance if you just don’t do what you need to do.’”
Howard completed 4 of 7 passing attempts for 99 yards and two scores in the second half while carrying the ball four times for 31 yards and another score. He finished with 150 yards and three touchdowns on 6-for-12 passing and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.
Anniston scored first on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Pope with less than three minutes into the game, but Oneonta built a 17-7 halftime lead behind a 37-yard field goal by Johnson and the first two of Walker’s three touchdown passes.
A 2-yard run by McDaniel gave Oneonta a 24-7 lead with 6:44 left in the third before the Bulldogs rallied.
Walker threw for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 13-for-34 passing but managed just nine yards while being picked off twice in the second half.
“Oneonta is one of the best teams in the state in 4A,” Bullock said. “They are very technique sound. They are smart kids. They’re going to do their assignments pretty much all night. We beat a good team.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.