Coaches often say that winning a state championship takes preparation, talent and a fair share of good fortune.
While Central accomplished the first two of those three all season, it ran out of luck at the worst time and suffered for it in its quarterfinal matchup with Prattville.
Without their star Traveon Samuel, who led the team all year before suffering a fractured fibula last week against Murphy, the Red Devils offense sputtered in a rematch with the Lions, falling 26-7 on Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. With the loss, Central’s impressive season comes to an end two games short of its ultimate goal.
“It wasn’t our night,” Red Devils coach Jamey DuBose told the team after the game. “I don’t know why, but it wasn’t meant to be. Everything happens for a purpose, and we need to learn from this and find a way to win this game next time.”
After scoring on its first possession against Murphy a week ago on a 19-yard pass to Samuel, the Red Devils found the end zone just twice in their final seven quarters of play. They averaged 40 points per game in their 10 regular-season contests and notched 42 in a win over Prattville earlier this season. Without Samuel, however, their typically up-tempo and effective offense struggled to have the same effect.
It had its lowest point totals of the season in the two playoff games, 20 against Murphy in the first round and seven on Friday against Prattville. The Red Devils managed just 228 total yards, 84 on the ground and crossed midfield just twice after it scored a touchdown on its second possession of the game, a 1-yard run by Jaxton Carson on a jet sweep — the play Samuel ran to perfection all season long.
“I don’t know, it probably did,” DuBose said when asked whether Samuel’s absence had a big impact on the offensive struggles. “Traveon is a great player. We still would have had to run the football. If you can run the football in the playoffs, you can win. We didn’t, and they did.”
DuBose was referring to Prattville’s dominating ground attack, which was nearly impossible to stop after the Central defense stood tall on its first four series’, allowing just a pair of field goals.
Prattville went on to rush for 259 yards in the game, compiling 380 yards of total offense.
The running back tandem of Kingston Davis and Joseph Burke, who had 128 and 78 yards rushing, respectively, consistently pushed the pile to pick up tough first-down yardage.
“My hats off to them,” DuBose said. “That came in with a better game plan and we got beat by a better team tonight. We couldn’t get them off the field. They converted a lot of third downs.”
One of those third down conversions came on the Lions first touchdown of the game. Trailing 7-6 in the second quarter and facing a third-and-goal for the 18-yard line, quarterback Keith Washington dropped back to pass and lobbed a long pass into the back of the end zone.
While the ball appeared it would sail long, wide receiver Seth Knotts leapt into the air, corralled the pass and tapped a foot inbounds as he fell backwards.
Prattville scored another touchdown with 48 seconds left in the first half, this on a 1-yard run by Washington to give it a 20-7 lead at the break. Washington hit Knotts again on a 36-yarder with 12 seconds left in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Washington completed just five passes, but four went to Knotts for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the loss, Central has a large portion of its nucleus returning next season. It will lose Samuel and running back Kenneth Thomas, among others, to graduation, but will have quarterback Zion Webb and a trio of receivers returning, along with a large portion of its talented defense.
After the game, DuBose spoke confidently about the future of the program.
“We’ll be back,” he said. “This was a good start, a foundation for the future.”
Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium
Prattville 3 17 6 0—26
Central 7 0 0 0—7
C-Jaxton Carson 1 run (Cameron Herring kick); 4:42
P-Austin Reed 27 FG; :42
P-Reed 24 FG; 11:10
P-Seth Knotts 18 pass from Keith Washington (Reed kick); 5:43
P-Washington 1 run (Reed kick); :48
P-Knotts 36 pass from Washington (Run failed); :12
Records: Prattville, 10-2; Central, 10-2. Next: Prattville, Friday vs. Foley; Central, season over.