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Calera can’t keep up with Wetumpka’s second-half surge

By CALEB TURRENTINE | Special to the Reporter

WETUMPKA – It was a sluggish first half for both Wetumpka and Calera during Friday’s pivotal Class 6A Region 3 clash at Hohenberg Field. Only three touchdowns were scored in the game’s first two quarters but it did not take long for that trend to change in the second half.

Wetumpka (5-4, 4-1) scored four touchdowns in five offensive drives in the third quarter alone to grab some breathing room before finally finishing off the Eagles with a 49-28 victory. The win secured a playoff spot for Wetumpka while officially eliminating Calera from the postseason.

“We talked to the offense at halftime about playing in front of the chains,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “When we do that, there are a lot of things we can do offensively. If we don’t stop ourselves with penalties and miscues, we can be very multiple and we did a better job of that in the second half.”

Calera (3-5, 1-4) struck first in the second half, tying the game at 14-14 with an 80-yard kickoff return by Art Amos on the first play of the third quarter. However, the momentum didn’t stay with the Eagles for very long.

Michael Dillard returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to set Wetumpka’s offense up in good field position. Seven plays later, Tavarse Murphy punched it in from 11 yards out to give Wetumpka the lead again and the hosts never let go.

“That was critical (by Dillard),” Perry said. “We needed an answer in that situation. Explosive plays in the special teams are big in taking the momentum so that was big to grab the momentum right back.”

Murphy was not done there, scoring on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Robert Rose less than six minutes later. Murphy had a season-high 10 touches and turned it into 99 yards of offense and two scores.

“We had to change the personnel a bit,” Perry said. “It wasn’t necessarily about getting him the ball more even though he is very explosive, and maybe we should have been getting him the ball more. He really stepped up.”

It was not just Murphy doing damage on offense as Wetumpka got big plays from athletes across the field.

Brandon Bowman accounted for 196 yards of offense and recorded three touchdowns — one passing, one receiving and one rushing. Rose finished the night with 195 yards through the air including touchdown passes to Bowman, Murphy and Dorian Jackson.

“They have great athletes and they did a good job of getting them into space,” Calera coach Trey Simpson said. “We couldn’t contain them so a lot of credit to them. It was a hard-fought game and I was proud of our effort but they were just better than us tonight.”

Calera struggled to match those numbers, finishing with just 234 yards of total offense. Most of the Eagles’ production came from the special teams unit as Amos finished with two touchdowns on kick returns.

Tyler Nelson was on the move for most of the night, scrambling from Wetumpka’s pressure in the backfield. He finished with 130 passing yards which included a touchdown pass to Kobe Prentice.

“They did a good job of pressuring us,” Simpson said. “They are really good up front and have a lot of speed on the back end. We got behind the chains and that makes it tough.”

Wetumpka’s defense limited Calera’s opportunities, forcing eight punts and five three-and-outs. The Eagles did not convert a third down until the final play of the game, finishing 1 for 13 with two of those failing because of interceptions for Wetumpka’s Avery Thomas and Lakirklon Leonard.

“We felt like we knew what their tendencies were on third down,” Perry said. “Our defensive coaches did a great job of teaching our defensive guys all week and they made some big plays so credit to them for executing.”

The game lasted nearly three hours mostly due to the high-scoring affair but also because of the number of penalty flags on the field. Calera was penalized 13 times for 125 yards while Wetumpka was called for 14 penalties totaling 100 yards.

“We’ve got to stop hurting ourselves with the penalties and that’s something we have to work on as a team,” Perry said. “We have to understand that if we keep doing that against better teams, we’re going to dig ourselves into a hole we can’t get out of.”

With the victory, Wetumpka still controls its own destiny in the race for a home playoff game, which it can secure with a win at Stanhope Elmore next week.

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