With Dothan trailing the whole game, Ahkim Walden changed everything by drilling a 22-yard field goal with one second left to give the Tigers a 15-14 victory over Russell County at Rip Hewes Stadium on Friday night.
“I was worried for sure, but I knew if I trusted God I would be OK,” said Walden, who left no doubt with a strong kick down the middle of the uprights. “I’d like to give a shout out to Eric Sanchez for making this happen with the onsides kick.”
It gave first-year head coach Keven Jackson his first win in three tries, and it marked the 25th straight loss for the Russell County program.
For most of the game, it appeared the Warriors were going to snap the long losing streak.
“We didn’t play well at all,” Jackson said. “I think we took them for granted, and they (Russell County) played hard. A play here and a play there, and this thing goes in another direction and we’re 0-3.”
But the Tigers kept fighting and got some big plays, especially from Tyson Williams and Devanir Martin.
Down 14-0 after Russell County scored on the first drive of the second half, Dothan got a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Martin to get back in it at 14-6. The extra point kick was missed by Walden.
“I really want to thank Devanir Martin because he is the one who gave me that spark with the big return,” Williams said. “I was down the whole game, but he gave me the spark.”
With 1:01 left in the game, Williams made a spectacular 21-yard TD catch despite tight coverage in the end zone near the out of bounds line to pull Dothan within 14-12.
“I wanted it,” Williams said. “That’s all I’ve got to say – I wanted it.”
The try for a 2-point conversion was unsuccessful when a pass was dropped inside the 5 to keep Russell County on top.
But Dothan got the ball back after Sanchez kicked the ball off of a Russell County player on an onsides kick and Martin recovered at the Tigers’ 48.
Quarterback Bubba McDaniel then quickly directed the Tigers down the field to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
With just 15 seconds remaining and the Tigers facing a 3rd-and-5 situation from the Russell County 35, McDaniel threw down the left side for Williams, who made another great catch at the 5.
“I was always told by my coaches and my father that big-time players make big-time plays,” Williams said.
With Dothan out of timeouts, McDaniel quickly lined up and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 5.8 seconds left, setting up the game-winning kick by Walden that set off a celebration.
Jackson called the win “bittersweet” but was proud of his team for rallying.
“I love the way they fought tonight,” Jackson said. “It just didn’t feel like we could get anything together, but they fought and put it together in the fourth quarter.”
While the Dothan defense struggled much of the night, it did come up with some mighty big plays in the second half.
With Russell County up 14-6 and driving late in the third quarter down to the Tigers’ 11, Zaymon Wimberly came up with a huge interception at the 6 and returned it to the 37.
With 8:44 left in the game and Russell County in a 4th-and-inches situation at its own 47, the Tigers stopped Jalen Mitchell for no gain.
“I take my hat off to them in the fourth quarter,” Jackson said of his players. “I’m proud of them.”
Russell County opened the scoring on the second play of the second quarter on a 28-yard touchdown catch by Robert Miles. Carlos Sampedro kicked through the extra point.
The Warriors made it a two-touchdown lead on the opening drive of the third quarter when Quazeyis Perry scored on a 30-yard run over the right side. Sampredro’s kick made it 14-0.
But Dothan got the needed spark from Martin’s kickoff return for a score and rallied for the victory.
“That showed us we can overcome adversity at any time,” Williams said.