September 8, 2013 2:50:17 AM
AMORY -- Prior to the start of the 25th renewal of the A-Team game between the Aberdeen High School football team and Amory High, the home team cheerleaders' run-through banner boldly proclaimed, "Bulldogs ain't got no bite!"
That statement was spot on for a half, although it could have applied to both teams, as visiting Aberdeen led 12-0 at the end of a first half replete with penalties (nine), turnovers (four), and missed assignments on both sides.
But, just as a week ago against New Hope, a trio of turnovers in the third quarter proved to be fateful for Amory and helped Aberdeen scored three-straight touchdowns en route to a 39-13 win in the 78th recorded meeting between the Monroe County rivals.
"Beside the turnovers, I think our overall speed and athleticism was the difference," Aberdeen coach Mark Bray said. "We started out pretty slow, and when Amory was backing up expecting the pass we should have been running the ball, but we made the adjustments. Coach Alex Williams, our offensive coordinator, did a great job, and in the end, we took advantage of what was given to us."
First-year Amory coach Ben Ashley and offensive coordinator Justin Moss, both former Aberdeen High assistants under Andy Stevens and Chris Duncan, agreed.
"We made some offensive adjustments at halftime and felt like we could move the ball against Aberdeen, but then the bottom fell out there in the third quarter," Ashley said. "We didn't tackle real well and their speed and athleticism had a lot to do with it. But if we didn't turn it over like we did, it could have been a different game."
Said Moss, "Six turnovers will get you beat every time. Take those away and you have a fairly even game."
A 27-yard scoring run by Jerrick Orr 1 minute, 10 seconds into the second quarter gave Aberdeen the lead. That's when Amory saw what was to come turnover-wise in the second half when Aberdeen quarterback Josh Williams hooked up with wide receiver Sammie Burroughs on a 44-yard touchdown pass one play after the Panthers' first of five lost fumbles. The touchdown made it 12-0 with 7:23 left to play in the half.
Down by a dozen to start the third period, the Panthers marched from their 35-yard line to the Aberdeen 28, where Orr intercepted quarterback Fred Garth at the goal line and returned it 15 yards.
Four plays netted the Bulldogs 13 yards and set up a 72-yard touchdown strike from Williams, who was under extreme pressure, to a wide-open Orr.
Aberdeen made the conversion, but a 10-yard holding penalty wiped it off the scoreboard. Undaunted, Williams scored from 13 yards to give the Bulldogs a 20-0 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
Seconds later, Amory coughed it up again and Chris McMillian came up with the loose ball at the Panther 46. Sandwiched around a pair of Bulldog holding penalties, Williams completed three-straight passes to Tyreke Gates (10 yards), B.J. Williams (23), and Burroughs (18) before calling his number on an 11-yard TD scamper. Demarea Dobbins added the kick for a 27-0 lead with 4:40 to go in the third.
A 20-yard kickoff return by Isaiah Carter and a 20-yard pickup by Garth gave the Panthers a first at the Aberdeen 40, but a fumble recovery by G.G. Blanchard ended that threat.
Williams found Gates on a 25-yard pass completion to give the Bulldogs a first down at the Amory 30. Running back Josh Ewing was called on four straight running plays -- the last of which was a 1-yard touchdown plunge that made it 33-0 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Amory finally scored after a 20-yard kickoff return by Zatorious Gates, two carries by Garth for 38 yards, and a 27-yard TD strike to Gates 31 seconds into the fourth period.
Aberdeen's reserves responded with a 13-play, 72-yard march without throwing a pass. Nick Hodges capped his team's scoring with a 1-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.
After an exchange of fumbles, Amory answered with a 40-yard touchdown run and Caleb Shelly's kick.
Although this year's game lacked the drama of last year's matchup in which Aberdeen pulled out a 27-22 victory on the final play, the victory Aberdeen's fifth straight and enabled the team's seniors to end their careers having never lost to the Panthers.
"It's our last time to play Amory, and it's feels good to say we've never lost to them," said Burroughs, a senior wide receiver/defensive back who had six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown and a fumble recovery and several pass breakups. "We didn't start out well but bounced back and played with great energy."
Williams, a three-year starter and architect of last year's come-from-behind victory, knows he has a chance to do likewise his senior year next season.
"I've got one more time to play them next year at our place, and I hope we can keep the streak alive," Williams said.
Aberdeen had 524 yards total offense, 287 yards rushing (6.7 avg.), and 237 yards passing on 13 completions (18.2 avg.).
Amory, a team hit with a rash of injuries, including starting quarterback Jon David Poss and three other starters out with anterior cruciate ligament injuries, had 48 yards passing on four completions. It rushed for 216 yards -- 135 of which were credited to Garth.
"When we lost Jon David the first game of the season, we had to move Fred back there and that hurt us defensively because Fred was our best linebacker," Ashley said. "Now we can't take the chance of getting him hurt, so he doesn't play defensively as much as we planned."