Heading into the first round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association state playoffs, first-year Central-Phenix City coach Woodrow Lowe wondered whether his Red Devils had risen to the level of their Friday opponent, even saying he wanted Central’s program to imitate Prattville’s and its success.
The Lions showed the Red Devils they had not yet arrived, beating Central 42-14 at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
Central finished its season 9-2, and Prattville (8-3) advances to play region-foe Wetumpka, which beat Prattville 26-24 earlier in the season.
“We’ve got to grow up and mature,” Lowe told his team after the game. “We’ve yet to learn how to finish a game. This is my fault. This is on me. We haven’t gotten there yet.”
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Central found itself down 21-0 with less than three minutes left in the first quarter. Prattville went 71 yards on its first drive, with quarterback Justin Thomas avoiding Central tackles on three runs and connecting in the air with Jeremiah Gardner on two passes. His second pass from 3 yards out gave the Lions their first score.
After the Red Devils went three-and-out, Prattville used nine plays to drive 51 yards for its second score.
After a Central timeout, the Red Devils sent the house at Thomas, who dumped a pass off to George Rowe for a 10-yard touchdown.
Fifteeen seconds later, after a Central fumble on the kickoff, Thomas ran out to the left side of the line then cut up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run.
“In the first quarter, we didn’t do anything defensively,” Lowe said. “It’s going to take some time.”
The Red Devils got on the board with a few seconds left in the first quarter when quarterback Jonathan Wallace ran it in from 3 yards out. Wallace’s 27-yard run set up the score.
Prattville fumbled on the second play of its next possession, giving Central the ball on the Lions 43.
Wallace, who Prattville had trouble controlling in the first half, ran in from 4 yards after a pass play broke down. Central forced another Prattville fumble on the Lions’ next possession but was unable to get a first down, giving Prattville another possession before half.
The Lions took advantage, marching 80 yards in two minutes to set up a Rashaad Brown 20-yard reception from Thomas to put Prattville up 28-14 at half.
Prattville’s halftime included several adjustments to stop Wallace, who accounted for 113 of Central’s 158 first-half yardage.
“We had to come up with a great game plan,” Prattville coach Jamey Dubose said. “We knew we had to stop the quarterback. We knew before this game that he is what makes them tick.”
Wallace had just 35 yards of offense in the second half, with Prattville sacking the quarterback five times.
Prattville scored twice in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Lowe said the Red Devils’ halftime adjustments were minimal on offense.
“All in all, our offense had a pretty good game,” Lowe said. “They started keying in on our key player and there wasn’t much we could do with that.”
Wallace finished with 86 rushing yards on 24 carries. He went 5-for-16 with 62 yards passing.
Thomas, the Lions’ junior quarterback, went 15-for-19 with 178 passing yards. He ran for 66 yards on 14 carries.
Prattville’s offense totaled 398 yards, while Central had 158 in the first half and just 36 in the second.
Dubose said it was a shame these two teams met this early in the playoffs.
“Central has a very good team,” he said. “This was a third-round matchup. This was not a first-round matchup, but unfortunately, it happened this way.”
Central’s Region 3 was swept out of the playoffs Friday night, with Opelika, Auburn and Smiths Station all losing to Region 4 teams. While Dubose said the Lions’ region is competitive, his non-region matchup were what prepared his team.
“Our (non-region) was tough,” he said. “At Prattville, we don’t look for 10-0 seasons. We played that schedule to get prepared for tonight.”
Lowe said Central is still in the process of trying to imitate Prattville’s success.
“This is what we want to be,” he said. “We were outclassed tonight.
“But we’ll get there.”
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium
@z-BR TabQuarters 1col:Prattville 21 7 0 14—42
Central 7 7 0 0—14
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:First Quarter
P—Jeremiah Gardner 3 pass Justin Thomas (Chris Kennedy kick), 7:41
P—George Rowe 10 pass Thomas (Kennedy kick), 3:04
P—Thomas 24 run (Kennedy kick), 2:49
C—Jonathan Wallace 3 run (Brandon Dorrill kick), :37.1
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Second Quarter
C—Wallace 4 run (Dorrill kick), 8:16
P—Rashaad Brown 20 pass Thomas (Kennedy kick), :34.8
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Fourth Quarter
P—Kardeen Poole 14 pass Jalen Whitlow (Kennedy kick), 10:37
P—Stanley Mays 17 run (Kennedy kick), 1:55
Team records: Prattville 8-3, Central 9-1. Next: Prattville at Wetumpka Friday at 8 p.m.; Central’s season is over.