By Wil Crews
The Lee-Scott varsity football hosted its first home playoff game in six years Friday night and got revenge on the team that eliminated the Warriors from the playoffs last season, defeating the Bessemer Academy Rebels, 21-15, to advance in the AISA Class 3A state playoffs.
“It was a good win for our guys,” said Lee-Scott head coach Buster Daniel after the game. “We made a lot of mistakes … it’s extremely tough to beat good football team twice in one year. They are a good football team and they played like it tonight. Proud of our guys for fighting.”
Coming into the game as favorites and on a six-game win streak to finish the regular season, Lee-Scott picked up right where it left off, playing a balanced game offensively and deterring the Rebels on the final drive of the game to secure the Warrior’s first-ever playoff win over Bessemer in seven tries.
“The kids, they have bought in,” Daniel said. “They love each other, they play for each other and they just get after it. We are checking a lot of boxes and it’s fun to do that.”
Lee-Scott kicked off and received the ball to begin the game and a wall of Warrior defenders crashed through the line to stuff the Rebels on a third-and-one — and again on fourth down — to give the ball to the Lee-Scott offense in opposition territory.
The Warrior offense quickly converted the good field position into points via a Landry Cochran 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tate McKelvey.
The rest of the first half played out scoreless as the two teams battled for field position but were unable to impact the scoreboard and Lee-Scott went into the break leading 7-0.
The Warriors received the ball to begin the second half and were set up with good field position for the offense’s first drive of the third quarter.
Taking over from the 38-yard line, the Lee-Scott offense churned out 10 yards on three plays for a first down. On the next play, McKelvey gave the ball off to running back Patrick Futch who took it through the middle, bounced outside and dusted every defender in his trail on the way to a 51-yard touchdown. Matthew Rolader added the extra point to make it 14-0 in favor of Lee-Scott with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter.
The Rebels weren’t going away quietly, however. Following one first down, the Rebels exploded for a big run of their own as senior running back Samad Muhammad took a handoff 66 yards off the left tackle, down the sideline and in for the touchdown with 8:25 left in the third.
Momentum continued to slide in favor of the Rebels on the next drive when a Lee-Scott fumble was recovered by Bessemer on the 17-yard line.
The Lee-Scott defense responded, however, and denied Bessemer in the red zone with a sack on third down and holding the Rebels short by one yard on fourth.
“We played good defense again,” Daniel said. “Bend don’t break, we talk about that. We gave up some plays — there wasn’t any big plays tonight — but we gave up too many yards and we have got to fix that kind of thing if we are going to go any further.”
Backed up deep inside their own territory, the Warrior’s offense was unable to move the chains and were quickly faced with a fourth down punting situation. The snap from Lee-Scott was low and threw off the timing of the punt, allowing Bessemer to break into the backfield and block the punt. In a silver-ling best case scenario, the ball trickled out of the end zone and saved Lee-Scott from giving up a special team’s touchdown, instead resulting in a safety.
The Rebels then took over the ball with a chance to take the lead, but the Lee-Scott defense stood tall again, forcing a punt from just outside of Bessemer field goal range.
The rest of the quarter played out and the two teams entered the fourth with all to play for, Lee-Scott leading 14-9.
The Warriors picked up the final period in the red zone and finally put some separation between the teams with a third-and-goal touchdown via a 3-yard rushing touchdown from McKelvey.
Bessemer was able to move the ball to the Lee-Scott side of the field on the ensuing drive but the Warrior’s defense deflected a pass on fourth and short to turn the ball back over to the Lee-Scott offense.
The Lee-Scott drive proved unsuccessful and the Rebels were able to register their second touchdown of the game on with 9-yard touchdown with 2:15 remaining in the contest.
Bessemer would have one final opportunity with the ball but failed to achieve any yards as the clock hit double-zero and the Lee-Scott faithful celebrated.
“I’m more excited than everything,” Daniel said. “I talked to the seniors, they are going to have a lot of lasts, but it’s not yet.”
Overall, the Warriors were led offensively by McKelvey, who had two total touchdowns, 70 yards rushing and 85 yards passing. Jonathan Meyers added 14 yards on the ground; Andrew Hahn, 12; and Futch, 56. Cochran led the way receiving with 54 yards.
Defensively, the Warrior’s limited Bessemer to 130 passing yards, 154 rushing and forced one fumble. Lee-Scott also played a relatively clean game with just four penalties costing the squad 28 yards.
“Everybody is good in the playoffs,” Daniel said after the victory. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We got to get us better. We got things we got to work on. We can’t worry about anybody else right now until we get our things fixed.“
Now, Lee-Scott turns its attention to the state semi-finals, where Tuscaloosa Academy (6-4) awaits. The game is scheduled for this Friday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at Tuscaloosa Academy.