By Brian Paglia
Dutchtown's Trey Nelson threw to his electric wide receiver Joe Stewart for a simple completion as the clock seemed to sprint toward the end of the game, and the Dutchtown crowd sighed in surrender. But then they erupted, because even though the clock had stopped, Stewart was still running, backwards, sideways, any direction that alluded a Jonesboro defender.
When Jonesboro finally ran him down, he pitched to Kelvin Tanner, who ran to midfield and then pitched to Nelson. For a second, the crowd hoped for a miracle. Cardinals coach Clint Satterfield just hoped for a tackle.
"Everyone's thinking Music City Miracle," Satterfield said. "I'm thinking, 'Tackle him!"
Instead, Nelson miscalculated one final pitch that landed in the hands of Jonesboro at midfield, and the Cardinals survived with a 14-12 victory over Dutchtown at Bulldog Stadium. Nelson's pitch counted as the last of Dutchtown's five second-half turnovers, a familiar problem that has ailed the Bulldogs this season.
That's how Jonesboro (2-1, 1-0) was able to overcome a first half in which the Cardinals struggled to halt Dutchtown's grinding rushing offense. Jonesboro had only four offensive possessions through two quarters, and those were plagued by penalties.
Dutchtown (2-2, 1-1) wanted a low-possession game. It had only three possessions in the first half, but it made the most of them. Its first possession lasted 11 plays and finished with a Ryan Kay field goal. The next possession spanned eight plays, and Gibran Johnson punctuated the march with a 6-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 10-0 halftime lead. The Bulldogs grinded out 172 yards on 36 carries, led by bruising wing back Kelvin Tanner who had 71 yards on 13 carries.
"They do a great job with their offense, and it takes awhile to get used to that," Satterfield said. "You can't emulate it in practice. It's a different offense. They run it, they're crisp with it, and they do it everyday.
"We knew that they have had drives where they've used the whole quarter before. We worried about that, and we said when we had the ball, we had to capitalize."
So when Dutchtown's Johnson fumbled as the Bulldogs began to drive in the second half, Jonesboro needed only seven plays - aided by a controversial pass interference call against Dutchtown's Jashaun Lowery - to get within 10-7.
Then it was Aaron Pickney's turn, who fumbled after rushing for 16 yards and what would've been a first down. Jonesboro took over at Dutchtown's 44-yard line. The Cardinals scored on fourth-and- goal to take a 14-10 lead, capping a second-half renaissance by Jonesboro's offense.
"I think that we wanted it more [in the second half]," said Jonesboro quarterback Cliff Crews, who finished with 104 yards of total offense and a touchdown. "At the Valdosta game, we had to [play] at a different level. We had to get to that same level than we had at Valdosta."
Jonesboro's defense, the subject of Satterfield's praise all season long as the offense has battled with inconsistency, acclimated to Dutchtown's offense and forced Nelson to make plays with his arm. He finished 8-of-15 for 105 yards, but his two interceptions halted Bulldogs drives in the second half.
"We basically turned the ball over when we shouldn't have," Dutchtown coach Jason Galt said. "Take our turnovers away, a couple of those drives got down close and at least we could've had field position, punt it deep and hold on to our lead. We didn't get a chance to do that."