By Jeffery Armstrong
The Mt. Zion Bulldogs edged closer to two significant events during Saturday night's 36-7 Region 5-AAAA West win over the Cedar Grove Saints at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
With their fourth straight win, the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-0 in the subregion) gave head coach Jackie Green his 99th career victory and ensured themselves of a playoff berth.
Mt. Zion's win over the Saints (3-5, 1-2) sets up a huge dog fight Friday with the Washington Bulldogs, also 7-1 and 3-0, for the subregion championship. Mt. Zion did a great job focusing on the task at hand, not looking past Cedar Grove in anticipation of the matchup with Washington.
"This was a big win for us. We played a beautiful first half of football and did a great job sticking with the game plan later," Green said. "We're pretty much in the playoffs now."
Mt. Zion played an almost flawless first half. Jamaal Clark's nine-yard touchdown run and Derek Slaughter's two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up 8-0 in the first quarter.
As the Bulldogs defense clamped down on the Saints, the offense heated up in the second quarter. Mt. Zion actually scored two TDs via the air. After a long drive, Bulldogs quarterback Darryl Tolbert threw a 15-yard TD pass to Clark. The extra point failed and Mt. Zion led 14-0. After a Semaj Harris fumble, Tolbert threw a fade pass to Valin Leggett for a 20-yard touchdown on the next play. Tolbert's two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up 22-0 at the half.
Mt. Zion held Cedar Grove to 17 first-half yards.
In the third quarter, the Saints started marching in, blitzing the Bulldogs and forcing them to give the ball back to Cedar Grove.
The Saints finally put together a scoring drive late in the third. Saints quarterback Garrett Williams threw a 42-yard pass to receiver Alan Mitchell on fourth-and-10 and three plays later, fullback Courtney Brooks rumbled in the end zone from two-yards out to make the score 22-7 with 3:30 left in the third.
Mt. Zion drove down the field in six plays, highlighted by Slaughter's 43-yard TD run with six seconds left in the third for a 29-7 lead.
Slaughter then worked on defense in the fourth quarter. After teammate Marcello Simmons stopped Saints running back Forrest Jackson for a loss on first down, Slaughter sacked Williams two straight times and forced a Saints punt.
As the Saints went back to punt, they made a huge mistake. Punter Adam Swaby took a knee as he fielded the snap and punted, but the referee blew the play dead where his knee hit the ground, which was at the Saints six. Mt. Zion's Quintilus Snow scored the game's final TD on the next play for the 36-7 margin.
"I just try to work hard on both sides of the ball; whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do," said Slaughter. "I just want to do what I can to help the team."
Green was proud of how Slaughter and his team played and praised his coaching staff for not abandoning the game plan when Cedar Grove blitzed after the half.
"Defensive coordinator Dominic Calloway and his staff did a great job tonight," Green said. "Bob Ryan and the offensive staff stuck with what we do best even when things tightened up a bit. Great job on both sides."