Tre Smith ran for two touchdowns, passed for another and made quite the adventure out of a 95-yard punt return for a score, and Class 3A’s third-ranked team rolled over Cleveland 62-20 in Friday’s Region 5 wrapper for both teams on Michael E. Dixon Field.
Devin Harris added a team-high 84 rushing yards and two scores, a 44-yard run and a 70-yard kickoff return, as Saks (9-0) finished 7-0 in region play.
The Wildcats’ performance against Cleveland (5-4, 3-4) came a week after they beat Calhoun County rival and previously unbeaten power Piedmont 40-15 to clinch the region title.
“When you play in huge games like last week, that’s the number one thing as a coach,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “You’re looking for a letdown.
“We played so good last week and put so much into that game, but tell you what: We came out firing on all cylinders, and that’s exactly what we asked them to do this week.”
Saks gained 466 total yards to Cleveland’s 283, much of which came after Saks built a 42-6 lead by halftime. The Wildcats held a 55-6 lead in the fourth quarter.
“I like our team, because every practice we come out to get better and work hard,” Smith said. “There’s no slowing down.”
Certainly not for Smith, whom Cleveland coach Gerald Gilliland called “the best player in our region.”
He completed 4 of 8 passes for 94 yards, including a 34-yard TD pass to Demetrius Powell in the second quarter. Smith also rushed for 71 yards, including TD runs of 51 and 7 yards.
The game’s most exciting play came when Smith fielded a rolling punt at Saks’ 5-yard line in the second quarter. He ran to his left, turned back right near his own goal line, then nearly reached the opposite sideline before turning up field.
After running nearly 70 yards from side to side, covering the distance between the “Gs” that mark the goal line, he turned up field and finished off the 95-yard punt return.
“I just felt like I had the whole team on one side, so, if I just break one tackle, I’m gone,” he said.
“When I saw that open field and saw one defender, I knew I was gone.”
Smith’s decision to field a punt that clearly would have rolled into the end zone for a touchback, followed by the happy result, left Miller conflicted.
Miller said he would prefer Smith let the ball roll into the end zone “most of the time” but couldn’t help a grin.
“I didn’t see exactly where he was when he caught it,” Miller said. “But any time he touches the ball, it’s usually OK with me. But he’s also got to make smart decisions, too.
“It’s funny, though, once he made it out of the end zone and got to about the 5, on the headset, I said, ‘He’s gone.’”
Lots of Wildcats got in on the fun. They had 12 total ball carriers, with Calvin Figeuroa and Raekwon Blake adding touchdown runs of 2 and 4 yards, respectively. Powell added another score when he recovered a Saks fumble in the end zone.
Cleveland, meanwhile, got 142 yards rushing and two scores from running back Trevor Yates, and quarterback Peyton Gilliland scored on a 1-yard sneak.
Saks will close out the regular season in a non-region game against Calhoun County rival Jacksonville next week. The Wildcats will look to finish off their first unbeaten regular season since 1971 and first unbeaten and untied regular season since 1968.
“I like where we are as a team,” Miller said. “We can’t lose sight of trying to get better each and every day at practice.
“We’re looking to make a run in the playoffs. There’s no doubt about that, but 3A North is extremely tough. There are a lot of good teams in 3A North, so that’s the scary part, but I also like our team a lot.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.