November 17, 2009 9:10:00 AM
RIPLEY -- All season long, Aberdeen High School football coach Chris Duncan has been looking for a "complete" game from his Bulldogs.
Although his team had compiled an impressive 10-2 mark heading into Friday''s 3A playoff matchup at Ripley, the Bulldogs, according to Duncan, had failed to click on all cylinders through their first 12 outings.
"We always had some kind of breakdown," Duncan said. "For the most part, we got a solid defensive effort most of the year, but sometimes the offense would sputter. Looking back, we were fortunate to have won as many as we did, and I was afraid that somewhere down the line it would cost us."
But Duncan finally got his wish here on Friday the 13th, as Aberdeen scored 42 unanswered points en route to a 42-16 victory in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A State playoffs.
"We finally played a whole game," Duncan said. "Offense, defense, special teams -- it was a sight to see. For once, I''ve got nothing to fuss about."
The contest featured a pair of teams with similar histories, as both started the season on a lackluster note but turned things around to reach the playoffs. Aberdeen dropped two of its first three games before reeling off eight consecutive wins to capture the Region 2-3A title, while Ripley started 2-5 before winning its final three regular-season games to grab the third spot in Region 1-3A.
Both teams then posted impressive first-round playoff wins last week in a pair of high-scoring contests - Aberdeen against Independence by a 40-13 count and Ripley against Leflore County 52-44 in a game in which the Tigers amassed a school single-game rushing record of 589 yards out of their Wing-T attack.
Duncan''s concerns about his team''s inability to "put it all together" and the revenge factor - Aberdeen fell behind Ripley 21-0 in last year''s playoff matchup before scoring 28 unanswered points to eliminate the Tigers - made it easy to see why the Friday the 13th road contest had him worried.
Those worries didn''t take long to materialize. First, Aberdeen running back Jamerson Love was stripped of the ball by Jamal Gray after a 9-yard gain on the game''s initial offensive play to give Ripley a first down at the Bulldog 37. Aberdeen then was flagged for pass interference on the Tigers'' first play from scrimmage to move the ball to the 22.
Four consecutive running plays set the Tigers up with a third-and-4 from the 5, but Duncan''s fears eased some when quarterback Acie Vance was sacked for a 10-yard loss and then threw an incompletion on fourth down to end the threat.
After a three-and-out ended Aberdeen''s second possession, Ripley took over at the Bulldogs'' 43 and marched to the 9. But Aberdeen''s Fred Ward intercepted Vance and returned it to the 36.
The turnover sparked Aberdeen, as the Bulldogs unleashed their quick-strike offense en route to a 42-0 lead midway through the third quarter. On the second play after the pickoff, quarterback Aaron Andrews found Mario Lucas wide open over the middle for a 64-yard pass-run combo. He then hit Rashad Pargo for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter.
Aberdeen''s defense forced a punt on the Tigers'' ensuing series and it took the Bulldogs only two plays to add to their lead. First up was a 44-yard reception by Lucas, followed by a 43-yard scoring toss to Jalen Devauld for a 14-0 cushion with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
A second Ripley punt set up a five-play, 58-yard Aberdeen scoring march, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Love and a pass to Erik Buchanan at the 9:45 mark of the second quarter.
Two Andrews'' pass completions of 21 to Pargo and 37 to Buchanan accounted for the bulk of the yardage on the drive.
Minutes later, the Bulldogs defense made it 3-for-3 and the offense made it four scores in a row when Andrews completed passes to Devauld for 19 yards, Buchanan for 17 and to Pargo for 32 and a 28-0 lead with 3:29 left before halftime.
Ripley''s offensive woes continued into the third quarter when Braxton Anderson recovered a fumble at midfield on the Tigers'' first possession and it took the Bulldogs but five plays to make it a 36-0 game.
A 31-yard run by Love and a 20-yard keeper by Andrews (thanks to a tremendous block by Pargo) set up a 6-yard touchdown scamper by Lucas and a conversion pass reception by Anderson.
Moments later, yet another Ripley punt gave the Bulldogs a first down at their 34 and Andrews hit Pargo, who was 30 yards behind the nearest defender, to complete a 66-yard scoring toss and increase the lead to 42-0 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
Ripley avoided the shutout with a pair of touchdowns against the reserves, a 1-yard plunge by Vance with 3:14 left and a 34-yard scamper by Deante Cook at the 2:46 mark. Black and Vance added conversion runs to account for the final score.
"We tossed a shutout here tonight because their two touchdowns were against our JV starters, and I can''t begin to say enough about our defense," said Duncan. "They (the defense) get no respect and no recognition, but they had a great overall effort tonight with two fumble recoveries and two interceptions."
Mention of Aberdeen''s big-play offense also brought a smile to Duncan''s face.
"Whew, did they put on a show," he said. "Aaron (Andrews) stepped out of his shell tonight. They (Ripley) seemed to focus on stopping Love on the ground and gave us the pass, so Andrews took advantage of that decision and made them pay."
Andrews was 10 of 17 tries for 345 yards (34.5 average) and four touchdowns.
Ripley coach Mac McCurry, who is assisted by 1971 Aberdeen High graduate and Bulldog Award winner Ronnie Jackson, said his team was outmanned from the beginning.
"Our kids put up a good fight and they never quit," said McCurry, who admitted his squad didn''t match up well with Aberdeen. "We had about 14 players go both ways and we lost five of them to injuries by the third game, so we started seven sophomores and one freshman on defense tonight. In the end, injuries and youth plagued us."
Aberdeen (11-2) will play host to unbeaten Charleston (13-0), a 55-6 winner against Leland, on Friday at Lester Miley Stadium.