GULF SHORES — The Faith Academy Rams rattled off 20 unanswered points en route to a 20-14 victory that eliminated the Gulf Shores Dolphins in the AHSAA Class 5A state quarterfinal Friday night at Mickey Miller …
GULF SHORES — The Faith Academy Rams rattled off 20 unanswered points en route to a 20-14 victory that eliminated the Gulf Shores Dolphins in the AHSAA Class 5A state quarterfinal Friday night at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium.
Gulf Shores finishes 11-2 overall having hosted its first two home playoff games, set program records for scoring and wins in a season and made the third round for the first time ever.
After Dolphin junior Ronnie Royal scored in each of the first two quarters, the Gulf Shores offense couldn’t get much traction in the second half. Faith Academy seized momentum in the third quarter with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown from Ram senior Dorian Smith to take a six-point lead.
“We had a hard time moving the ball in the second half. They probably made some good adjustments defensively, I’ll have to go back to look and see, but there was more movement, they put everybody in the box and we didn’t throw the ball probably as effective as we wanted to,” Dolphin head coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Defensively, we played just as well in the second half as we did the first half but the punt return obviously sprung them.”
Dolphins did what worked early
Hudspeth said the first-half game plan went off without a hitch where Royal and other Gulf Shores ball carriers were able to benefit from the offensive line’s protection in the middle.
“In the first half, we were going up and down the field with the inside running game. That’s what our plan was because it seemed like everybody could move the ball when they were patient and ran the ball inside on them and it worked like we wanted in the first half with 14 points,” Hudspeth said.
The halftime message was mainly focused on retaining possession and continuing to execute the game plan, but the Dolphins couldn’t find the big play they had come up with so many times earlier this season.
Fourth-down conversion comes up inches shy
On Gulf Shores’ penultimate offensive drive, the Dolphins worked the ball past midfield but a sack forced them into a 4th-and-9 at the Faith Academy 43-yard line. Brendon Byrd connected with Braden Jackson on the sideline, but the referee’s ball placement needed a measurement to confirm if it crossed the line to gain.
With the yard markers stretched wide, the officials deemed it short and a turnover on downs with 4:17 remaining.
Facing 4th and 9, Brendon Byrd found Braden Jackson on the sidelines but a measurement shows the connection was short of the line to gain. Faith Academy takes over on its own 35 with 4:17 left leading Gulf Shores 20-14 #ALHSFB pic.twitter.com/1cc0GErKcs— Gulf Coast Media Sports (@GCMSportsAL) November 19, 2022
“When they say, ‘It’s a game of inches,’ they weren’t kidding,” Hudspeth said. “It was about four inches short; you look at that, if you can convert that who knows what happens but it’s at least going to be interesting for a while.”
Gulf Shores seniors finish history-making run
With the reality of the end of the season sinking in for so many of the Dolphin seniors, Hudspeth was sure to commend the athletes for such a historic season.
“Be proud of what you accomplished and be pleased with the foundation you laid,” Hudspeth said of his message. “This senior class did a lot of things that’s never been done here before and they’ll forever be known for that.”
It will be hard to forget the heights the Dolphins soared to this season, but when paired with being only six years removed from a winless season, Hudspeth says that makes it even more impressive.
“Think about this group of seniors, they’ve been through the gauntlet. They’ve had some rough seasons and last year they had a turnaround season and this year they sort of had a breakout season,” Hudspeth said. “They have a lot they can hold their heads up high about; this was a good momentum builder for our program and like I told the kids, ‘Only one team in 5A is going to feel good after the season’s over.’ And it’s unfortunate ours came to an end tonight.”
Faith Academy improves to 11-2 and moves on to the Class 5A state semifinal against Charles Henderson next Friday night. The Trojans knocked off top-ranked UMS-Wright last night, 19-16.
Gulf Shores fell to 11-2 overall to close the 2022 campaign. The Dolphins racked up 484 points on the season which topped the previous-best total by 103 points. Gulf Shores had never recorded double-digit wins in a season nor hosted a playoff game before this season.