ALBANY — At 0-4, the Dougherty County Trojans limped into Friday night, hoping to get their offense going in the first of three straight matchups against crosstown rivals.
The Indians (1-4), led by Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Emanuel Byrd, hadn't fared much better this season, coming off a 12-0 loss to Monroe.
Byrd proved to be the difference.
The senior led the Indians to a 31-14 victory and accounted for 204 total yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Albany coach Felton Williams was pleased with his quarterback's performance.
"He finally played up to the level I know he's capable of playing at, an excellent game all-around, running and throwing the ball," Williams said. "He played up to his potential (Friday) night."
Dougherty coach Corey Joyner was impressed with Albany's QB as well.
"That's a great player," Joyner said. "Any time you can control your team and move them up and down the field like that, that's the true sign of a leader, he showed that tonight."
In a game marred with penalties and miscues, the Indians managed to consistently make the most of their opportunities.
In the first quarter, both teams stalled offensively, until AHS flipped the field position. A punt was downed at Dougherty's 2-yard line shortly before the end of the first quarter. After a holding call pushed them into an even deeper hole, Trojans tailback Kenny Johnson was tackled in the end zone by a host of Indians for an Albany safety.
After getting the ball back, the Indians' drive stalled due to their own penalties and they were forced to punt. Unfortunately for the Trojans, the punt was muffed and recovered by the Indians at the Dougherty 18-yard line. After a Dougherty unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the ball was moved to the 5-yard line. Three plays later, Byrd scrambled in from five yards out to give the Indians a 9-0 lead.
For a minute, the Trojans showed some resiliency. After a kickoff was returned to the 48 yard line by Madarious McWhorter, Michael Whatley tossed a pass over the middle to Tavarious Nelson, who broke a couple of tackles while reversing field, going onto score on a 48-yard catch-and-run.
Whatley would hit Ricardo Sloan for the two-point conversion, pulling within one point halfway through the second quarter.
Byrd responded by completing 4-of-6 passes on the next possession, capping the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Rantiez Williams to make it 15-8 before the half. From then on, it was all Indians.
The Trojans got the ball to start the second half but fumbled the ball away two plays into the third quarter.
After the Dougherty defense clamped down to force a punt, the Trojans got the ball at their own 15-yard line, only to suffer another holding call.
On the next play, Michael Whatley was brought down by Caleb Arnold for another safety, making the score 17-8.
On the ensuing Albany possession, Byrd showed nice pocket presence and mobility to dodge rushers and get upfield on a 35-yard touchdown run to make the score 23-8.
After exchanging punts in the third, the Trojans got the ball in their own territory, where Albany defensive back Vashon Gaines intercepted a Whatley pass and returned it to the Trojans' 14-yard line.
With such good field position, it was only a matter of time before Byrd made the defense pay — this time with a 14-yard strike to Andrico Carter, making the score 30-8 with 6:55 left in the game.
In a weird turn of events, Whatley threw an interception on the very next play from scrimmage, and right after that, Indians' tailback Quentin Sapp got the ball dislodged, and Trojans defensive end Tevin Smith returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17 points.
Dougherty would recover the ensuing onside kick, and two plays later scored on a 40-yard touchdown reception, but the Trojans were penalized for holding as well as unsportsmanlike conduct, effectively putting the final nail in the coffin.
Byrd completed 14-of-29 passes, accounted for 304 total yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers.
"They were getting so much pressure upfield, I just read my keys and took what the defense gave me," Byrd said. "Whenever I had lanes to run through, I had to take them. I was just trying to keep composure [when Dougherty got back in the game momentarily]. Any game can get out of hand, we've been on both sides. We know what it feels like to come from behind. We just kept our heads up and kept playing."
Though Friday's triumph only marked the Indians' second win, Williams remained optimistic.
"I told them to stay disciplined and play physical, sound, fundamental football," Williams said. "We had a great week of practice, and it spilled over into (Friday's) game. We've got Cairo next week, another tough region game, we've just gotta keep working."