Red Bay riding high as Hackleburg arrives
FCT Sports Editor
RED BAY – Dale Jeffreys has won his share of football games at Red Bay-73 of them, to be exact, in nine-plus seasons, including several in the state playoffs.
Still, Jeffreys didn't play down the importance of last week's 24-21 win at West Morgan, a much-needed morale-booster for a team that has faced plenty of adversity this year.
"That one ranks right up there with some of our playoff wins," said Jeffreys, whose team went 5-6 last season but was 12-1 as recently as 2004. "It's important because it means we're going in the right direction. We've won games like this before, but it seems like it's been a long time. We're not where we were two or three years ago, but we're in better shape than we were last year."
Last year was Red Bay's first losing season since 1997, but the Tigers had high hopes heading into 2006.
Bad things began to happen over the summer, when starting quarterback Anthony Horton suffered a torn ACL during basketball workouts. The injury bug carried over to the fall as Horton's replacement, sophomore Cody Tucker, and starting tailback Pablo Makepeace both suffered leg injuries against Phil Campbell in Week 2.
Worst of all, former teammate Matt Hester passed away early this season after an 11-month battle with cancer.
"We were pretty optimistic going into the offseason, but then things kind of started to go downhill," Jeffreys said. "We lost our starting quarterback, and then our other quarterback gets banged up. Then we lose Pablo, too, and that really hurts. And of course, Matt passing away was rough on everybody.
"You tell your kids to keep working hard and something good will happen, but you can only say that for so long before something good actually has to happen. It definitely did last week. To go over there and beat a good football team banged up like we were, that was really something special."
Red Bay (2-2, 2-1 Class 2A, Region 8) raced out to a 14-0 lead against West Morgan, but the Rebels rallied to go on top 21-14 in the second half.
Tiger sophomore Cody Armstrong provided a big spark on special teams, blocking a West Morgan punt and recovering it in the end zone for the tying touchdown.
"That was one of those game-changing plays," said Horton, who is still holding out hope of being able to return this season. "It really turned things around for us."
The game remained tied until late in the fourth quarter, when Red Bay senior Chris Frame nailed a 44-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.
Frame had missed two kicks already on the night, but Jeffreys didn't hesitate to call on him for the game-winner.
"He had already missed a couple, but one of them was into the wind," Jeffreys said. "We were at the point on the field where we were too deep to punt it and almost too far away to try a field goal. But I knew if he missed it and it went into the end zone, they would be getting the ball at the 20, which isn't great field position. I also knew that if Chris hit it good and hit it straight, he could make it.
"He hasn't made a single one from that distance in practice all year, but he's made two in the games now."
Frame had made a 43-yarder the week before at Tanner, which he said gave him confidence that he could do it again.
"When it got to be third down, I started getting ready just in case Coach decided he wanted to try a field goal," said Frame, who added that his maximum range is in the neighborhood of 45-50 yards. "We didn't make the first down, and Coach said, 'Kick it.'
"I just ran onto the field and tried not to look at the scoreboard."
Frame did look at the football as holder Morgan Stanfield spotted it for him, and what he saw was alarming.
"The laces were in," said Frame, who, like most kickers, prefers the laces out. "I looked down as I was getting ready to kick it, and the laces were staring right at me."
Frame drilled the kick anyway, and Red Bay's defense held twice in the waning moments to preserve the win. The celebration lasted all the way from Trinity to Red Bay.
"It was crazy on the bus," said Stanfield, who caught an 85-yard touchdown pass from Tucker in the first quarter. "It was so loud, you couldn't sleep. You couldn't even hear the music on your CD player.
"That was a huge win for us. It really motivates us, and it gives us a lot of confidence."
The Tigers will have to be careful not to be overconfident when they host winless Hackleburg tonight. With Tanner and West Morgan already behind them, Red Bay's second-half schedule appears favorable.
Jeffreys isn't buying it.
"We thought the same thing last year, and then we lost a couple of those winnable games down the stretch," he said. "What we have to do is focus on ourselves. It's good to prepare for your opponent each week, but we have to make sure we take care of us."