Meek running back Gabe Jones fights off defenders on a run during Friday night's 14-13 win over Winston County. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)
ARLEY – After dropping the first game of the season on the road against Cold Springs last week, the Meek Tigers (Class 1A, Region 6) hosted Winston County (Class 2A, Region 5) Friday night and were hungry for a win in their home opener. Thanks to some key stops on defense and a big night on the ground from senior running back Gabe Jones, the Tigers did just that, edging out the Yellow Jackets 14-13 in a dramatic finish.
It was a slow night for both teams offensively, and after a scoreless first quarter, Tigers quarterback Payton Key found sophomore Nelson Martin out near the sideline and Martin turned upfield and took it in from 31 yards out to give Meek a 6-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Winston County returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards for a touchdown and after the extra point, Meek was down 7-6 just moments after taking an early lead. Jones seemed to be the only thing working for the Tigers’ offense in the first half, and he went into the locker room at the break with 79 yards on 15 carries.
The third quarter featured more of the same, with both defenses holding the score at 7-6 in favor of Winston County. With eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Jones found the end zone from 3 yards out and punched in the 2-point conversion to give Meek a 14-7 lead late in the game. Jones was even more affective in the second half, picking up an additional 141 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters. Jones finished the night with 220 yards on 29 carries, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the Tigers’ total offense.
The final possession of the night for the Yellow Jackets was a stressful one for Meek fans. Winston County continued to move the chains on the ground and through the air, draining the time on the clock until finally they scored from a yard away as the game clock expired. With no time on the clock, the Yellow Jackets decided to go for two points and the win. Winston County dove through the line and appeared to convert the two points for the victory but the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Meek defense, giving them the 14-13 win.
After the game, Tigers Head Coach David Norwood talked about the things he noticed throughout the night and where he wants to see his team keep improving.
“They never should’ve gotten all the way down there to begin with. The bottom line is we’re still not playing very well, not tackling very well on defense right now. I think we were in position a lot of times; we’re just not making tackles. Offensively, we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot for the whole first half,” Norwood said. “They might’ve had one first down the entire first half and we’ve got to start playing more disciplined and more consistent. Special teams killed us tonight. One of the touchdowns we gave up was on a kick-off return in the first half, and that was the only offense they had was on special teams.”
Norwood was proud of Jones’ performance during the win but is already thinking about how to prepare his team for next week’s road trip to South Lamar (Class 1A, Region 6).
“Gabe was huge on offense and defense tonight. He never came off the field and played about half of the special teams. It’s never anything big, it’s just a bunch of little stuff and we have to get that corrected because we’re fixing to get into the meat of our schedule. We’re fixing to get into region play; we’ve got South Lamar next week for goodness sake, and that dude don’t play.”
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