The Gulf Shores Dolphins survived a late rally from the Clay County Volunteers and earned a 26-21 win Friday night at Alabama State University to advance to their first-ever state quarterfinal in the …
The Gulf Shores Dolphins survived a late rally from the Clay County Volunteers and earned a 26-21 win Friday night at Alabama State University to advance to their first-ever state quarterfinal in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s playoffs.
Gulf Shores draws region foe Faith Academy, who beat Demopolis 36-15, next Friday in what will be the Dolphins’ second home playoff game this season and in program history.
And with history on the line Friday night, Clay County put Gulf Shores’ backs against the wall with 14 unanswered points to take a 21-20 lead with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Dolphin head coach Mark Hudspeth said the offensive attack was adjusted and eventually led to the game-winning drive that was capped by junior running back Ronnie Royal’s third touchdown of the night which gave Gulf Shores a five-point lead with only 4:40 left in regulation.
“We're just taking it one game at a time,” Hudspeth said after the game. “Each week that goes by, we're going a little deeper into the unknown where we've never been before, but our kids are confident. Tonight, I think they believed the whole time they were going to win.”
Offensive line leads fourth-quarter adjustment
Hudspeth said the earlier offensive efforts were more on the outside edges instead of the heart of the field. Heading into the final frame, he said the Dolphins offensive line came through when looked upon.
“We really didn't attack them in the middle very often and we were running east and west too much, they had a lot of team speed,” Hudspeth said. “In the fourth quarter we sort of put it on our offensive line and we were able to run the ball in the middle and were able to get some positive yards. Then we hit them with a big play, which was a great call, backed up on our own 7. We threw a pass down the middle for about 30 yards, that really got us going.”
Jackson’s pick-six sparks Gulf Shores defense
After Royal’s hat-trick score, the Dolphin defense stepped up with the final stop they needed to take over possession with only 1:24 left to drain out the clock.
However, the defensive effort was highlighted by Braden Jackson’s interception returned for a touchdown with only 11 seconds to play before halftime. He followed it up with a big kickoff return to open the third quarter and Hudspeth appreciated the all-around performance.
“Braden Jackson just played his absolute heart out. He had a big kickoff return, had the interception return; just played awfully hard. But that was a big momentum builder,” Hudspeth said of the pick-six. “Those guys popped a couple of big runs on us but other than that, our defense settled down and played pretty well. They're hard stop, their running back was a quality back, a Division I back and he really carried them tonight.”
Royal records second postseason hat trick in as many games
Gulf Shores turned to their likely-Division I running back, Royal, who provided his second three-touchdown game of the playoffs in as many contests. Of course, he too had an impact in multiple phases as well.
“Just a guy that never quits,” Hudspeth said of what he saw in Royal’s performance. “The guy's playing both ways, hardly coming off the field so just to have that type of endurance says a lot about his toughness. And tonight, he just wanted to put the team on his shoulders.”
Dolphins set to return home
Gulf Shores can remain perched on Royal’s shoulders all the way back home where Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium will host its second playoff game in three weeks, both of which are the first in Dolphin football history.
“We're excited to be back at home. The quarterfinals are at ‘The Mick,’ we had a great crowd last week and we need another great atmosphere to get behind our team, and I know we'll have it,” Hudspeth said. “I'm excited for our team to be able to experience this type of excitement.”
The state quarterfinal opponent is a familiar one to Gulf Shores, where the Dolphins took down the Faith Academy Rams 22-12 in the second week of play within Class 5A Region 1 on Sept. 2.
“That first time we played them, it was a battle. We were able to come back in the second half and pull it out and we have a lot of respect for their program,” Hudspeth said. “They've really played awfully well since we beat them, so it'll be a great game against two really good teams.”
“I’m just really proud of our guys coming on the road in a place that has won the last two out of the last five state championships. To come away with a win on the road says a lot about the character of this team,” Hudspeth said. “We overcame a lot tonight and found a way to win the game when the game on the line.”