At the beginning of the season, Central coach Jamey DuBose insisted the Red Devils had more than just one playmaker. While do-it-all athlete Traveon Samuel was obviously the focal point of the Central offense, he said, there were plenty of others who could shoulder the load if called upon.
Given the opportunity, a number of Red Devils answered the call on Friday night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
Despite losing Samuel to an injury that will likely keep him out for the duration of the playoffs, the Red Devils rallied behind a handful of others to hold on for a 20-14 win over Murphy in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
The win puts them two away from a berth in the state title game and also matches them with region rival Prattville, which defeated Baker in overtime, in next week’s second round.
“Tra’s a big part of our offense and when you lose him, you have to adapt,” DuBose said. “We had some guys step up. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but most importantly, we’ll be ready whatever happens.”
Samuel’s absence was evident, particularly in or near the red zone where he normally sniffs out the touchdown. Against Murphy, Central struggled to complete drives, stalling well inside Murphy territory on a number of occasions.
Still, despite scoring its fewest points of the season, Central was able to play ball-control offense, rushing for 216 yards and playing keep away on a critical final drive that milked the clock.
Running back Kenneth Thomas became the go-to player in place of Samuel, carrying the ball 31 times for 160 yards. Jaxton Carson carried eight times for 49 yards and a touchdown, including the final carry that gave the Red Devils a first down and sealed the victory.
“If one man goes down, everyone else has to step up,” Thomas said. “We kept working hard and found a way to win. We’ve got another week. That’s motivation to keep going.”
Prior to Samuel’s injury, Central was able to find quick success on the offensive side of the football.
After forcing Murphy into a three-and-out on its first possession, the Red Devils got a fingertip on the punt. The ball went just 4 yards, and quarterback Zion Webb connected with Samuel for a 19-yard screen on the second play of the ensuing drive to put Central ahead 7-0.
Carson completed the second scoring drive for Central to open the second quarter, going 2 yards on a sweep for the score. He ran around the right edge and dove over the pylon into the corner of the end zone. The score was set up by a 22-yard run by Thomas, his longest of the night, in which he followed a blocker to the second level and finished the run at the 3-yard line.
Later, following an interception by Karon Delince, Central started its third scoring drive from its own goal line. Delince appeared to fall backward into the end zone on the interception, but officials marked him down with the ball nearly touching the white paint of the goal line.
Central marched 85 yards on the drive, but stalled at the 15 and settled for a 32-yard field goal by Cameron Herring to go ahead 17-0.
After that, the offense was stymied, managing just one field goal in the final two quarters of play.
“They had a good game plan for us, I thought,” DuBose said. “They sent their linebackers inside and kept us contained. We missed a couple routes, too. We were just looking for a win, though. We’ll go back to work and get better next week.”
While it was the lowest point total offensively, the defense also allowed its fewest points of the season, allowing just two scoring drives the entire game. One came late in the first half on which Murphy marched 70 yards on six plays in one minute, 53 seconds. The other came following a fumble on which it had a short 29-yard field.
The unit allowed just 261 total yards and recorded two interceptions. It held much-acclaimed Murphy quarterback DePriest Turner to 218 passing yards and one touchdown and 26 rushing yards.
“The defense played really well,” DuBose said. “I thought they did a great job containing that quarterback. They took the X-factor out of the game.”
Central will face Prattville in the second round next Friday. The Red Devils beat the Lions 42-34 on the road earlier this season.
Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium
Murphy 0 7 0 7—14
Central 7 10 0 3—20
C—Traveon Samuel 19 pass from Zion Webb (Cameron Herring kick); 10:37
C—Jaxton Carson 2 run (Herring kick); 10:10
C—Herring 32 FG; 2:57
M—Jaboris James 1 run (Keller Farni kick); :59
C—Herring 36 FG; 10:07
M—Jaylen Sutton 11 pass from DePriest Turner (Farni kick); 2:32
Records: Murphy, 7-4; Central, 10-1; Next: Murphy, season over; Central, Friday vs. Prattville at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.