GULF SHORES – The No. 6 Gulf Shores Dolphins started hot by scoring two touchdowns before the Elberta Warriors could run two offensive plays and never looked back en route to a 49-3 region win …
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Gulf Shores won all of its home games for the first time in program history this season, but it was the 2009 team that first won all of its home games: over LeFlore, Wilcox Central, Citronelle, Escambia County and Faith Academy.
GULF SHORES – The No. 6 Gulf Shores Dolphins started hot by scoring two touchdowns before the Elberta Warriors could run two offensive plays and never looked back en route to a 49-3 region win Thursday night at the Sportsplex.
The victory locked in the program’s second undefeated season at home with four wins in as many games and mathematically secured a playoff spot in Class 5A Region 1 going into Gulf Shores’ open week.
“We clinched into the playoffs, big check and then it’s just the next game,” Dolphin head coach Mark Hudspeth said of the gravity of the win. “You definitely want to play well going into the open date, there’s nothing worse than playing poorly going into an open date then you have to sit on it for two weeks.”
Gulf Shores went to the halftime break with a 49-0 lead behind four rushing touchdowns from junior Ronnie Royal, two running touchdowns from JR Gardner and one passing touchdown from Brendon Byrd to Nick Carris.
Still, Hudspeth wanted his team to retain the pressure on the opponents.
“It’s 0-0,” Royal said of the coaches’ halftime message. “We might be up, but when we go back outside, it’s 0-0 on that board. All gas, no brakes; just keep going.”
Preparation is the key to success
Linebacker Isaiah Hammac, who transitioned from safety in the offseason, said the Dolphins were able to keep Elberta out of the end zone thanks to their preparation.
“We had been plotting on their run game and knew exactly what they were doing,” Hammac said. “We knew the scheme and worked during practice to defeat it.”
Similarly, Royal said the offense felt the same and simply executed the game plan once they took the field.
“I felt great, my team felt great, my O-Line felt great also; we knew what was coming and what to expect,” Royal said. “We planned the whole week how their defense works and how their defensive ends work and how we can get each other the ball.”
Hammac gets in on the action
When Hammac talked in the offseason above moving closer to the line of scrimmage, he noted there’s more action at linebacker compared to safety and Thursday night was no exception.
“Definitely a lot more action than safety, especially against a team like that who ran the ball a lot,” Hammac said.
Hudspeth sees him and Cameron Cooper – who nearly returned an interception for a touchdown toward the end of the half – as difference-makers on the second level.
“That guy is a football player and when he’s in the middle, we’re hard to run the ball against,” Hudspeth said of Hammac. “Him and Cameron Cooper are both outstanding inside linebackers and I’m really proud of them.”
Royal, Gardner hit pay dirt multiple times
On the other side, it was the running back duo of Royal and Gardner that were catalysts in Gulf Shores’ win.
Gardner bookended the rushing touchdowns 49 seconds into the game and 1:31 before halftime in between Royal’s four touchdowns where three came in the first quarter alone.
To supplement the run game, Byrd found Carris on multiple long connections and benefitted from the short field following Cooper’s interception with the 2-yard touchdown pass.
“It’s always important. In every game, you want to start fast and there’s been some games this year that we have not started fast so we always make sure that is a priority and the guys were able to do that,” Hudspeth said.
With Gulf Shores heading back to the postseason, that was on the mind of the players before the postgame celebrations.
“This win is real big,” Hammac said. “We have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, which is nice, but it’s all gas no brakes.”
“Coach always says to not take it too far ahead (into the future) because we always have to get the next team up, which is Vigor,” Royal said. “We’re not even worried about the bye week, we know we’ve got to handle some stuff but we’ll just go ahead get right for Vigor, then B.C. Rain, then playoffs.”
“This feels great; I love this field, I love this community, my teammates, coaches everything about Gulf Shores and the Dolphins,” Royal said. “Basketball, football; anything about it, it’s amazing. I love it here.”
Gulf Shores improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in Region 1 heading into an open week in Week 9. Elberta dropped to 1-6 overall and 1-4 in region play with a trip to Vigor (3-3, 2-3) on deck next Friday.