PREP FOOTBALL: No. 7 Arab falls in 2OT thriller at No. 3 Pleasant Grove 41-38

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Arab’s Brody McCain (9) dives to make a catch during the Knights’ 41-38 loss at Pleasant Grove Friday night. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – The Arabian Knights were on the road Friday night to face Pleasant Grove in the third round of the Class 5A State Playoffs and four quarters were not enough for these two teams to settle things. After trailing 28-14 at halftime, the Knights outscored the Spartans 14-0 in the second half to force overtime. However, after falling behind Arab 38-35 in double overtime, Pleasant Grove scored on its possession to claim a nail-biting, 41-38 win over the Knights.

The Spartans received the game’s opening kickoff and quickly moved the ball down into Arab territory with big gains on the ground. After converting on fourth-and-two to extend the drive, a 5-yard touchdown pass put Pleasant Grove in front 7-0 with seven minutes to play in the first quarter. The Knights looked to answer the score on their ensuing possession but after passes from Aiden Cox to Spencer Strickland, Drew Puccio and Brody McCain moved the chains, an interception cut the drive short at the Spartans’ 30-yard line.

Pleasant Grove added to its lead with another methodical scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown run and made it a 14-0 game with just 11 seconds remaining in the opening period. However, the Knights reached into their bag of tricks when they got the ball back and connected on a perfectly executed hook and ladder play. Cox hit Strickland over the middle, and he tossed it back to Hayden O’Reilly who took it 66 yards all the way down to the 15-yard line. After a throw back pass from Puccio to Cox moved the ball down inside the 2-yard line, Drake Franklin punched it into the end zone on the next play to get the Knights on the board. Aiden Wooten’s extra point made it a 14-7 game with 11 minutes on the clock in the second quarter.

The Spartans answered the Arab score on their ensuing possession, picking up big gains on the ground and eventually running another one into the end zone with around eight minutes remaining in the half. The extra point was wide left, and the Knights fell behind 20-7. Arab’s next drive was another good one. Cox kept the chains moving with completions to Strickland and Puccio and a penalty in the secondary on fourth down kept the drive going as well. Facing fourth-and-one from the 4-yard line, Franklin spun his way into the end zone to put six more points on the board for Arab. Wooten’s extra point trimmed the lead to 20-14 with just over three minutes to play in the first half.

The Knights tried to steal a possession with an onside kick, but it was recovered by the Spartans near midfield. Arab’s defense forced Pleasant Grove into a third-and-long situation, but the Spartans connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass to score once again. They made up for the missed extra point with a two-point conversion and pulled ahead 28-14 with three minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Knights were unable to get any points on the board in the final minutes of the first half and went into the locker room trailing by two touchdowns at the break.

Arab received the ball to start the third quarter and the Knights’ first drive of the second half went about as well as it could have. A 10-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock was capped off by a 1-yard Franklin touchdown run and made it a 28-21 game midway through the third. Pleasant Grove drove the ball back down into Arab territory but for the first time in the game, the Knights defense got a massive stop and forced the Spartans to turn the ball over on downs with a little over two minutes remaining in the third.

Arab’s offense kept the chains moving with passes to Strickland and Dakota Nesmith on their ensuing possession. Cox hit McCain on a slant to get the Knights inside the 10-yard line and just a couple plays later, Cox found McCain in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Wooten’s extra point tied things up at 28 with 8:26 to play in regulation. The Spartans ripped off a big gain on the ground to move inside the Arab 20-yard line, but the Knights defense stepped up once again and Logan Silva deflected a pass on fourth down to give the ball back to the Arab offense.

A pass to Nesmith and a nice run from Franklin gained first downs for the Knights as they tried to run as much clock as possible, but Cox was sacked on a third down play near midfield and Arab was forced to punt the ball back to the Spartans with 1:50 remaining. A completion over the middle and a facemask penalty got Pleasant Grove down to the 33-yard line with 42 seconds to play and a big gain on a screen pass moved the ball to 18. The Spartans tossed a few attempts into the end zone, but the Knights held them out and forced a 37-yard field goal attempt with two seconds on the clock. The kick fell short of the uprights and the game went into overtime.

It took Pleasant Grove just two plays to score in the first overtime and take a 35-28 lead, but Arab was ready to answer. A 4-yard touchdown pass from Cox to Puccio made it a 35-34 game and the Knights chose to go for two points and the win but a pass interference penalty in the back of the end zone gave Arab another chance from the 1-yard line. However, the Knights opted to kick the extra point after the penalty and sent the game into a second overtime tied at 35. Arab got the ball first to start the next overtime period and wasn’t able to get back in the end zone but Will Caneer knocked a 21-yard field goal through the uprights to put the Knights on top 38-35. Unfortunately for the Arab faithful, the Spartans were able score from 4 yards out on their next possession and take an overtime thriller over the Knights 41-38.

Arab finishes the season with a school-record 11 wins and in the 5A State Quarterfinals for the first time in school history. With over 20 seniors set to graduate in May, there will be plenty of new faces on the field for the Arabian Knights next season hungry to make another playoff run.

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