CEDAR BLUFF – The history of Cedar Bluff’s football program dates all the way back to 1930.
In that time, there’s been 15 area/region championships won, including a Class 1A, Region 7 title this season. There has also been three state championships awarded to the Tigers by The Birmingham News (1959, 1961, 1962), and a state runner-up in 2006.
On Friday night, the Cedar Bluff faithful celebrated the program’s 85th anniversary by honoring all former football players and coaches at halftime of the Tigers’ 80th meeting with longtime rival Gaylesville.
It was only fitting that Friday’s game also had an added special significance.
The Tigers won their 500th football game in school history with a 46-20 win over the Trojans. Their overall record now stands at 500-301-21.
“To have this celebration at home was real special,” Cedar Bluff coach and 1995 graduate Jonathan McWhorter said. “There’s a lot of pride here with all our sports programs, especially our football program. It’s something we could celebrate with everybody who’s had anything to do with all 500 wins. It was just a special night to honor all those people.
“We talk about each other as a family – our community and our school – and we really think of each other that way. Anytime former players talk to me about the team, it’s how are we looking? How are we going to be this year? It’s not ya’ll or the team. We talk in terms of us and we. We know we’re representing a lot of people every time we get on this field, and we don’t take that lightly. We’re very honored to be able to do that.”
The Trojans (2-7, 2-4) had plans to spoil the evening for the home crowd. They used a ball control game plan to keep second-ranked Cedar Bluff’s offense off the field.
But it was the Tiger defense that helped thwart those plans in the first half.
The Trojans marched all the way down to the Tiger 28 on their first possession of the game, but a fumble by senior fullback Brandon Barnes was scooped up by sophomore defensive back Isaiha Jones. Jones rambled 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers (9-0, 6-0) a 6-0 lead.
“I’ve been looking for picks all season, but that was my first recovery,” Jones said. “I saw it roll out and I picked it up. It just felt good to score for our team.”
The Tiger defense forced the Trojans in a three-and-out on their next possession, and the offense capitalized on a 3-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Josh Decker to senior receiver DJ Chapman. The Trojans blocked Derick Pearsey’s extra point, keeping the score at 12-0.
On the third play of Gaylesville’s next possession, junior quarterback Austin Slayton was picked off by sophomore defensive back Davion Fife, setting the offense up again with a short field. Twelve plays later, Decker delivered a 1-yard touchdown run for an 18-0 advantage.
“Our defense has done great all year,” McWhorter said. “We really stressed this week that we’ve got to have some turnovers, and we’ve got to take advantage of those turnovers. I’m real proud of our defense. I thought we played well.”
Gaylesville got back to controlling the ball, and the clock, with a 13-play, 58-yard drive on its next possession. The end result was Barnes rolling into the end zone from nine yards. Senior Jonathan Bradley’s pass on the 2-point conversion missed the mark, but the Trojans were back in the game, trailing 18-6.
After forcing Cedar Bluff to punt, Gaylesville’s offense scored again on a 28-yard Bradley-to-Slayton connection. Barnes booted the extra point, and with just 22 ticks on the clock in the first half, Gaylesville had cut the Tiger lead to 18-13.
“These high-paced offenses, if you can control the clock and make them sweat it out, you can play with them,” Gaylesville coach Kyle Garmon said. “I’ve said for years there’s two ways to beat them. You’ve either got to control the clock, which is very hard to do because they’re so big and physical and fast, or you can try to outscore them. It worked for a half, but then it was done (in the second half).”
As Garmon said, the Tigers made the necessary adjustments at the break and their offense got back to its quick-strike scoring ways.
It took freshman running back Ivory Starr just three carries on the Tigers’ opening possession in the third quarter to score his first touchdown of the night. He scooted 69 yards for this one. Decker added the 2-point conversion rush, and just like that, the Tigers had taken a 26-13 lead.
The Tiger ‘D’ forced another Trojan punt, and Starr scored again, this time from 43 yards. Senior running back Haylan Bailey rushed in for the 2-point conversion, giving Cedar Bluff a 34-13 advantage.
Slayton fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which fell into the arms of Jones. One play after the turnover, Starr dashed 42 yards for his third touchdown of the quarter. Decker missed on the 2-point pass, but the Tigers were in control at 40-13 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
Starr’s 42-yard touchdown run was his final carry of the night. He finished with 275 yards (206 in the third quarter) on 14 carries with three scores.
“When I’m not doing so well, my teammates pick me up to go harder, and that’s what I did in the second half,” Starr said. “I started getting off on the right blocks and getting to the right side. That’s what helped me in the second half.”
Garmon complimented Starr on his big third quarter, but he was impressed with how well the Tigers blocked in the trenches.
“In years past, you look at these Cedar Bluff teams and say they’ve got good backs, they’ve got good wideouts, they’ve got good quarterbacks, but they’re kind of missing a lineman or two. This Cedar Bluff team is not missing anybody,” Garmon said. “I don’t know if they’ve got one offensive lineman who is just dominant and powerful, but as a group, this is the best five offensive linemen I’ve seen for them. They do well on their fits and they do well staying on their blocks. When you’ve got a back like (Starr), you don’t have to block real long for it to be a good block.”
Decker finished off the third quarter with a 57-yard touchdown toss to Jones. He completed 4-of-7 pass attempts for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
Gaylesville junior running back Derek Hill had a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:21 remaining in the game for the final. Hill and Barnes both rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown apiece to lead the Trojans.
Gaylesville closes out its season at Spring Garden on Friday. Cedar Bluff will host Class 3A Sand Rock on Thursday.