Albany High fullback Juwon Young, a Dynamite Dozen selection, breaks a tackle from Cairo defender Derex Hill during Friday night’s game at Hugh Mills Stadium. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY -- Cairo’s seesaw season of lose-one, win-one finally came to an end Friday night with a 20-6 defeat of Albany High at Hugh Mills stadium.
But the win did not come without some controversy.
Up 14-6 with just under five minutes in the fourth quarter, the Syrupmakers (4-3, 3-1) appeared to have put the game away when running back Jeremiah Hill busted through the Indian defense en route to the end zone. But an Indian defender managed to knock the ball free just inside the five-yard line, forcing a fumble into the end zone.
But instead of a touchback with the ball going to Albany, Hill was ruled down at the four-yard line. Two plays later he ran it in for a two-yard touchdown.
The sequence of events all but ended any chance for the Indians (2-5, 1-3) to come back.
“The response I got from the officials was that there was an inadvertent whistle, but after looking at the tape there was no whistle,” Albany head coach Felton Williams explained. “The official said he screwed up, but in the end [we] are the ones who suffer from the mistake.”
Williams said he was told as a result of the inadvertent whistle Cairo was the given the option to have the ball at the three-yard line or replay the down. The choice made was an obvious one.
“This is the same crew that made several questionable calls in Americus,” Williams said in reference to the Indians’ game against Americus-Sumter four weeks ago. “I don’t know whether it’s a stroke of bad luck, but the one thing I can say is that they are consistently bad.”
It took just three plays from the opening kickoff for the Syrupmakers to get ahead in the game and stay ahead in the game.
Reese Wooten easily blew by Albany’s Willie Davis on a vertical route and the Syrupmakers turned a third-and-long play into a 58-yard touchdown completion.
From there the teams took turns stopping each other on defense as no more points were scored in the first half.
“That play was big for us,” Cairo head coach Tom Fallaw said. “We knew once we got in certain formations they would try to man us across the board. We had a [fly] route called with a dig underneath and all you have to do is read the free safety. They didn’t have a free safety at the time so it was a one-on-one route outside and our kid made a good play.”
The play worked like a charm so much that the Syrupmakers tried to catch Albany sleeping again later on in the game. Wooten once again burned his man deep, but this time his hands were less reliable and the ball was dropped.
Hoping to jumpstart their offense in the second half, the Indians turned to their passing game. Their offensive struggles went from bad to worse when Cairo’s Derex Hill picked off Albany’s Malik Mathis and took it to the house for a pick-six.
“All week long we had practiced taking away routes from the receivers so I read the quarterback’s eyes and saw the slant coming and the ball landed right in my hands,” Hill said. “After I caught it my first reaction was secure the ball and go to the house.
“It was the biggest play of the game because we only had seven points at the time and [the interception] changed the momentum.”
Albany scored its only points midway through the fourth quarter after putting together a lengthy drive that began at its 25-yard line. Malik Dungee capped off the 75-yard drive with a touchdown run from a yard out.
When they failed to get the ball back off an onside kick the Indians had no choice but to force a stop on defense. That stop looked to have come in the form of a fumble, but the call went Cairo’s way, and, consequently, the game did as well.
“I don’t regret the onside kick because early on in the season we were getting them consistently,” Williams said. “The ball was not kicked the way I wanted it, but we needed the ball so I don’t feel bad about that [decision].”
Even though the game’s outcome left the Indians with a bitter taste, their girt-and-grime style of defense was not lost on their opponent.
“They are really good on defense, really fast,” Fallaw said. “I don’t think Albany has been given enough credit. They can really make you look sloppy with their defense.”