By Josh Kraeger
Special to the Daily
Longtime rivals Mt. Zion and Jonesboro faced off Friday night at Twelve Oaks Stadium in the first Backyard Battle, with the heavily favored Mt. Zion Bulldogs defeating the Jonesboro Cardinals 7-6.
Prior to the game, Mt. Zion led the series between the teams by a significant 12-4 margin. The Bulldogs hoped to produce an outcome similar to last year's 37-13 victory, but unfortunately got off to a slow start.
The Cardinals capitalized on several first-quarter penalties committed by Mt. Zion, and on their second possession they were able to utilize a balanced offensive attack to successfully make their way down the field.
The steady offensive barrage, led by sophomore quarterback Alejandro Benneifield and senior running back Ryan Brown, culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by junior running back Rodney Singleton. With 2:40 left in the first quarter, the Cardinals had taken the lead 6-0 and shocked the Bulldog faithful.
However, the Bulldogs would not go down without a fight.
Senior running back Quarterrio Morgan single-handedly took over the game for the remainder of the first half. Morgan carried the ball 11 times for 117 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 49 seconds left in the second quarter.
The touchdown gave the Bulldogs a slight 7-6 lead going into the second half.
What started out as an offensive assault from both teams turned into a defensive showdown as the second half began to play out. Both teams had strong defensive efforts, marked by game-changing plays throughout the half. A third quarter drive by Mt. Zion that was headed deep into Jonesboro territory was ended when Jonesboro junior Cedric Nettles intercepted a pass thrown by Bulldog quarterback Montel Buchanan. However, in the fourth quarter Mt. Zion's defense took the game into their hands, sacking Benneifield twice and producing constant pressure in the backfield.
The Bulldog defense was able to subdue a last-minute drive by the Cardinals to cap off their season-opener in a win, and add another win to the series lead.
"We could've done better, but we played a good game overall," senior Austin Smith said.
Smith was everywhere for the Bulldogs throughout the game, playing wide receiver, free safety and even punting the ball for special teams.
"It gets a little tiring, but I've got to do what I've got to do when it comes to making big plays for our team," Smith said. Smith did just that for the Bulldogs, having a solid performance for each position he was slotted at. The Bulldogs set their team apart from the Cardinals tonight with steady production throughout the game. Morgan finished with 140 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, part of a 234 yard rushing assault by the Bulldogs.
"Everybody worked as one tonight, we didn't give up and we came out with the win," Morgan said. While the result was not the blowout the Bulldogs were hoping for, they were content with their victory and have set their sights higher.
"We're going for a state championship," said Morgan and Smith. The Bulldogs hope to achieve this with three simple steps.
"We're staying fit, staying out of trouble, and working hard in the classroom," Morgan said.