Albany High’s Jonathan Jefferson runs over the Dougherty defense in the first half of Saturday’s game at Hugh Mills Stadium. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — One slump was snapped and another continued Saturday night at Hugh Mills Stadium, where Albany High and Dougherty each battled for their first Region 1-AAAA victories.
In a matchup between the two remaining winless teams in the region, the Indians put themselves right back in the playoff picture with a 30-12 win on their homecoming night.
“The region is going to be wide open until the final week,” Albany coach Felton Williams said. “You are going to have some three-loss and maybe four-loss teams that get into the playoffs. If we can get two more solid weeks of football, who knows what will happen? If we get stuff going offensively like we did (Saturday) and keep playing solid defense then we will be OK.”
Williams’ kids are believing, too.
“Everybody in the region has a close record, so we just have to keep working,” Albany junior Malik Dungee said. “Hopefully we can play well in our last four games and get into the playoffs for the first time in a few years.”
Albany (2-4, 1-2) is now tied for fifth in the region, while Dougherty stayed winless at 0-6 overall and 0-3 in region play.
Four different players scored for the Indians, including Dungee, who put the game away in the opening minute of the fourth quarter with a 23-yard TD run to give Albany an insurmountable 18-point lead.
“It feels great not having just one person score but to have the whole team come together and not worry about self,” Dungee said. “It feels great to win. It just feels great to win.”
Dougherty, on the other hand, has struggled in every game this season and has been outscored by a combined 169 points — but Trojan coach Corey Joyner said his players aren’t giving up on him yet.
“The guys haven’t quit,” said Joyner, who is in his second year as head coach. “They are still playing hard and practicing hard. And like I told them (Saturday) they are showing good character. They could have given up on the program and what we are trying to do, but they haven’t.”
Both offenses struggled in the first quarter and stalled every time they got to the opponent’s side of the field.
Albany fullback and Dynamite Dozen linebacker Juwon Young finally got the Indians on the scoreboard with 10:53 left in the second quarter when he galloped in on a 17-yard rushing TD, which was set up with a long run by Trawick Kennedy. Young then punctuated his touchdown with a two-point conversion run to put Albany ahead 8-0.
After a quiet first quarter, Dougherty running back LaDarrien Royal broke off one big run after another in the second quarter and finally got in the end zone with 5:48 left to pull the Trojans to within two points. Royal’s score was a 1-yard run on fourth down, but the speedy back broke off runs of 35 and 26 yards during the drive and had a total of 101 all-purpose yards in the second quarter alone.
After a defensive stand late in the second quarter, Dougherty had an opportunity to take the lead, but Trojan quarterback Michael Whatley threw an interception to Albany’s Willie Davis, who returned the pick 25 yards for a TD with 1:56 left in the half. Young muscled his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion to put Albany ahead 16-6 at the half.
The offenses went back to struggling in the third quarter, when first downs were few and penalties and defensive stands were many. Albany got into position to score in the final minutes of the period, but Indian quarterback Malik Mathis threw an interception at the goal line to Dougherty’s Ricardo Sloan.
On the Trojans’ ensuing possession, however, they failed to pick up a first down and gave the ball back to the Indians, who started the fourth quarter on the 26-yard line of Dougherty — their best field position of the day.
And that’s when Dungee iced the Indians’ win.
Dungee scored on the second play of the drive on a 23-yard run, and Jonathan Jefferson ran in for the two-point conversion, giving the Indians a three-score advantage with 11:01 left in the game.
Jefferson then got in on the scoring party with 8:51 left in the game when he broke through the line of scrimmage, shed three Dougherty tacklers and sprinted down the sideline for a 27-yard score to put Albany on top, 30-6.
Royal ran in for his second TD of the game with 3:18 left to cut the lead to 30-12.
Dougherty finishes the season with four games against the top teams in the region, including a matchup next week with Monroe and a game Oct. 25 against Herald No. 3 Westover, which is unbeaten in the region.
Albany has a path to the playoffs, but it involves pulling off some upsets in the final four weeks of the season. The Indians return to Hugh Mills next week with a game against Cairo.