By Morgan Bryce
Stellar play from running back Chris Person and dominant defensive play in the second half helped propel Beulah to a 29-24 victory over Pike Road Friday night.
Trailing 24-14 at halftime, the Bobcats outscored the Patriots 15-0 in the second half to clinch not only their seventh win of the season a but second-place finish in Class 3A Region 3, guaranteeing them the opportunity to host at least one home playoff game.
“We were doing things on offense that were hurting them throughout the game, and we just kind of wore on them there at the end. The home crowd was great too, because everytime we needed a stand, they got behind us,” said Beulah Coach Cody Flournoy. “I’m so proud to be here.”
Things got off to a shaky start for Beulah, as Pike Road relied heavily on the legs of quarterback Cedric Paymon to move the ball on designed running plays. Milking the first six-plus minutes of the first quarter, the Patriots managed to drive inside the Bobcats red zone before turning the ball over on downs at the Beulah 16-yard line.
Balanced carries between the phenom running duo of Chris Person and Caden Dowdell helped the Bobcats on their first drive, which Lonzie Portis later capped off with a dazzling 18-yard TD. Austin Billingsley’s extra-point try was no good.
Fifty-seven seconds later, Pike Road’s Curtis Carter took an end around through the teeth of the Beulah defense, sprinting 70 yards for the score and a 7-6 lead.
A bad snap by Beulah set up Pike Road with prime field position in its own territory. Two plays later, Paymon visited the endzone to boost his team’s lead to eight, 14-6.
Powerful running from Person and an eventual 24-yard score cut the deficit to two points, and Kaleb Abney connected with Justin Hancock on a two-point conversion attempt from the swinging gate formation to tie the game.
The Patriots added two more scores, another Carter score and Paymon field goal, to take a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Portis sustained hopes of a Beulah comeback with a scintillating 37-yard TD run, reinspiring the Bobcats faithful and trimming the Patriot lead to six with 10:32 left in the fourth quarter.
Several Pike Road drives were stymied by the Beulah defense, which was led by Dowdell and Hancock, who dominated from their respective linebacker positions.
Another low snap was mishandled by Portis, but Dowdell picked up the loose football and rambled 40 yards to set up the Bobcats with prime field position. Two plays later, Person scored his second TD and game-winning score to give Beulah a 27-24 lead with 8:03 left to play.
More great defensive play by the Bobcats forced the Patriots to punt, but a high snap over punter Carson Fike’s head rolled out of the left-hand side of the endzone for a safety and a 29-24 Beulah lead.
With fewer than three minutes to go, Beulah’s offense attempted a drive to run out the clock, but fumbled and gave the ball back to the hopeful Patriots. Two huge tackles by Hancock forced the Patriots into a 4th-and-13. A desperation from Paymon to the endzone was intercepted by Dylan Coleman to seize the victory.
Offensively, Beulah finished with 395 total yards, with 375 coming on the ground. Person accounted for 233 yards on 33 touches and two scores, and Dowdell, Portis and Quay Moreland combined to rush 26 times for 142 yards and two TDs.
Dowdell and Hancock were the heart and soul of the Beulah defense, finishing with 13 and 12 tackles each, respectively. Quin Page and Isaiah Glidewell notched five tackles each.
Glidewell punted twice, maintaining a 30 yards-per-punt average, while Billingsley finished 1-of-3 on extra points.
With the win, the Bobcats move to 7-2 overall, 5-2 in region play. They travel to non-region opponent McKenzie next Friday, who is 1-8 on the season.
Beyond a winning record and playoff berth is the growing sense of community pride for the Beulah football program, a sign that Flournoy said shows that his program is on the right track.
“I’ve been a part of good programs where they expected us to win and over here at Beulah, the community has always been behind us, but the expectations were low. And now that we’re winning, everybody’s behind us, everybody’s showing up,” Flournoy said. “It’s really an electric atmosphere around here and everybody’s having a lot of fun. The guys are doing what we ask them to do, and we’re seeing their hard work pay off.”
Playoff matchups for Beulah and all other area schools will be decided after next Friday’s remaining contests. Kickoff against McKenzie is set for 7 p.m. The school is located at 221 Garland Road.