GULF SHORES – The Gulf Shores Dolphins rolled over the Carroll Eagles 42-0 in the program’s first home playoff game to open the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 5A …
GULF SHORES – The Gulf Shores Dolphins rolled over the Carroll Eagles 42-0 in the program’s first home playoff game to open the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 5A state playoffs Friday night at the Sportsplex.
Junior running back Ronnie Royal caught a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass to complement the Dolphins’ defensive shutout and punch a ticket to the second round, where they’ll face Central Clay County. The Volunteers opened their postseason with a 50-0 win over Holtville Friday night.
“How about the crowd, about the atmosphere tonight?” Gulf Shores head coach Mark Hudspeth posed. “I just thought tonight was a big-time high school atmosphere and it's evident that the culture here is changing. I’m really proud of our fans, our administration, our teachers and students.”
Dolphin seniors flip the script
For senior defensive lineman Caidyn Clark and safety JR Gardner, who saw the opposite fortune at the beginning of their high school careers, the fact they had just won the second playoff game in Gulf Shores program history still hadn’t quite sunk in.
“This is still unbelievable, to be honest. Because our freshman year we went 1-9, and we just flipped it around our senior year and went 9-1. It's still just unreal, but we cannot get comfortable,” Clark said. “Once we get comfortable, we're going to start losing and I feel like this team is going to stay on top of it every week.”
“It’s just so shocking because three years ago, we used to play on this same field and that score would be completely swapped,” Gardner said. “We're just so proud of ourselves, we knew we could do it and we're just following through with what we thought we could do.”
Hudspeth knew those two were just a couple of key cogs in the Dolphins’ overall machine and he was happy to see this senior class continue to make history.
“Proud of these guys, they went through some lean years and to see those guys have success, I'm really proud of them,” Hudspeth said.
Clark: Defense read screen passes
After what Clark said was the best week of practice Gulf Shores has had, the defense did their job to shut down the Carroll screen passing game to help record the shutout.
“We worked hard on the defensive line all week of ‘smelling the rat,’ and being able to adjust to the screen. They ran it three times tonight, we shut it down all three times,” Clark said. “It's just the d-line, we focused up, we read all of our keys that we had – like, whatever side the back was on we knew which way the offensive line was going. We knew when the screen was coming and it was just a lot of keys that (defensive coordinator) Coach (Paul) Rhoads helped us look out for.”
Royal registers touchdown trifecta
Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers recorded the NFL’s fourth trifecta last week with a rushing, receiving and passing touchdown and Royal – the top-ranked all-purpose back in the nation – did the same Friday night for the Gulf Shores Dolphins.
“I don't know how many times that happens so that's an amazing game on his part,” Hudspeth said. “And then on top of that, he played well defensively.”
Byrd-Royal connection marks first touchdown in a Dolphin home playoff game
The receiving touchdown of Royal’s trifecta came first on a 52-yard screen pass from senior quarterback Brendon Byrd in the opening frame where the running back stiff-armed a defender out of his way and then outraced the supporting defenders to the end zone.
“It was exciting to score the first touchdown in the playoff game like this with a big community watching us, it was just amazing,” Royal said. “We just set the pace for our offense and our defense and our whole team.”
“Feels pretty good. I don't know how to explain it, but it's amazing,” Byrd said of throwing Gulf Shores’ first playoff touchdown pass at home. “It just helped us build up momentum and we kept building, we kept playing and we made history so we just have to keep going.”
Dolphins pull out the tricks
Royal’s passing touchdown came on a double reverse that started with Byrd – who went on to serve as the lead blocker – then went to Gardner, who pitched it to Royal who was coming the opposite direction to find Braden Jackson who beat his man and soared into the end zone to help give Gulf Shores a 28-0 halftime lead.
“What was going on in my head was like, ‘I know what the play is, he's going to be wide open so I just have to make a layup and hopefully we score,’” Royal said.
“It was a great game, the defense made a shoutout, so it helped us on offense to be able to go down and drive down and score,” said Byrd.
Royal completed the trifecta with a 58-yard rushing touchdown after a 50-yard touchdown was called back for a penalty two plays prior. Gardner (3 yards) and Byrd (6 yards) recorded rushing touchdowns of their own before Byrd connected with Gardner on a 45-yard screen pass for the bookending touchdown.
The Dolphins improved to 10-1 overall on the season and move on to the second round of the state playoffs next week against Clay County. The Volunteers (9-2 overall) won Class 5A Region 4 and will host next Friday’s postseason game in Lineville with a trip to the state quarterfinals on the line.
“This was our best practice week we've had in a while so I feel like we're starting to step things up and get rid of little stuff that's holding us back. We’re about to become a real mean machine out here,” Clark said.
“It was a great game, it was just exciting. It's not nothing new, just coming here and playing with these Dolphins, Byrd too, it's new team and we just have to set the record and set the pace for how many rounds we go,” Royal said.
Other Baldwin County final scores
Auburn 35, Fairhope 17
Booker T. Washington 46, Orange Beach 43
Dothan 42, Foley 28
Lowndes Academy 68, Snook Christian 12
Montgomery Catholic 41, Bayside Academy 13
Pike Road 22, Spanish Fort 21