But Frederick Jordan’s blocked punt and return, Troymaine Pope’s 42-yard touchdown run and two goal-line stands gave Anniston a 14-0 victory and the Bulldogs’ deepest playoff run in 17 years.
Anniston (9-4) will play host to Oneonta (11-2) in next week’s Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A semifinals, marking the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the semis since they won the 6A title in 1994.
“It’s a great feeling,” said second-year Anniston coach Eddie Bullock, who led the Bulldogs to the quarterfinals as interim head coach in 2010. “I felt like we had the team that could come up here and get a win, but they’re a scary team.”
Oneonta beat Deshler 48-20 on Friday to earn a rematch with Anniston, which beat the Redskins 34-31 in the regular season and beat them by the same score in the second round in 2010.
“It means a lot,” Pope said about Anniston reaching the semifinals. “We’re coming back home. I don’t think we can lose at home.”
As usual, Pope was a huge reason why Anniston won, rushing for 202 of the Bulldogs’ 265 total yards. His 42-yard zig-zag across the field with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter made it a two-score game.
“The offensive line blocked then I saw a crease and cutback,” he said. “I felt like No. 19 (Will Redmond) wasn’t going to tackle me, so I had him turned and I cut and went to the pylon.”
Anniston’s other score came at 6:04 in the second quarter, when Jordan blocked a punt, ran down the rebound and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw the guy coming towards me to block me, and I pushed him back,” Jordan said. “I saw it deflected off his back. I just pushed him out of the way and scooped and scored.”
Those two scores stood up on a night when the Bulldogs held Fayette County to 193 total yards, 39 on the round. Anniston made their two big plays stand up with two goal-line stands.
The first came on the opening drive of the second half. Fayette County drove from its 20-yard line to the Anniston 10 but lost 16 yards on the next two plays, including a 15-yard sack of Marcellus Redmond.
It came down to fourth down from the 26, and Marcellus Redmond through incomplete in the end zone after one of his many scrambles on the night.
Anniston helped Fayette County reach the 10 again, in the fourth quarter, with a roughing the passer penalty that wiped out Shakale Ashford’s interception at the goal line.
The penalty gave the Tigers a first down at the Anniston 10, and Marcellus Redmond scrambled on consecutive plays to reach the 2. He overthrew JaTevin Madison in the end zone on third down, and Anniston’s Keviante Reyes came up with a fourth-down sack with 3:20 to play.
Anniston got the ball back and gained two first downs, enough to end the game with quarterback Spencer Howard taking a knee.
“I told the defense that defense was going to have to win the game,” Bullock said. “Most teams are going to key on Pope, and for us to win, defense is going to have to step up.
“We got a shutout, and we got a big goal-line stop down here, and that was big.”
Marcellus Redmond played a courageous game through the hip injury, completing 16 of 29 passes for 154 yards. He kept several plays alive with scrambles.
“You can go down the list here at Fayette, and it was a Superman performance by him,” Fayette County coach Lance Tucker said. “Every one of these kids will give you the same effort, but Marcellus is a truly a special, special kid.
“I’ve never seen a kid give that kind of effort hurt like that.”
Fayette County missed running back Kyle Nalls, who underwent surgery Friday for an injury he sustained earlier this season. The Tigers became pass-oriented, and Anniston keyed on wide receiver Cameron Poe-Mitchell, holding him to 64 yards on eight catches.
“We were not going to let No. 7 beat us,” Bullock said.
Anniston did plenty to beat itself with 14 penalties for 135 yards, including several conduct and personal-foul calls. A fourth-quarter skirmish resulted in the ejection of Anniston lineman Dontavius Blair.
Bullock said Blair will be available to play against Oneonta next week, provided he completes a sportsmanship course this week. Completing the course would also knock Anniston’s fine down from $300 to $100.
Bullock lit into his team about the penalties after the game.
“It’s extremely disappointing, because that’s not our character,” he said. “That’s not my character, and that’s not Anniston High School’s character.
“We got some personal fouls, and that’s lack of discipline. That’s my fault. There was something I didn’t do right this particular game to get them focused where they wouldn’t get those personal fouls. That’s my fault as the head coach, but I’m going to fix it.”
Anniston did enough good things to overcome the penalties and achieve its deepest playoff run since the Clinton administration.
“It feels great,” Jordan said. “We haven’t been there since the last state championship team, so it feels great to win this game and get ready to play to go to the championship.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.