Houston Academy and head coach Eddie Brundidge knew Mobile Christian wasn’t a typical No. 4 team from a region coming to Dothan on Friday night.
The Leopards, who had to forfeit three region games earlier in the season that eventually cost them a higher spot in the region, proved to be more of a No. 1 team.
The Mobile Christian defense stymied the Houston Academy offense and the Leopards capitalized on uncharacteristic Raider mistakes as well as injuries to earn a 30-3 rout of HA at Northcutt Field in a Class 3A playoff opener.
The outcome felt Mobile Christian (officially 4-7, though 8-3 on the field with two losses to out of state teams) into the second round against Trinity.
Houston Academy’s season ended with a 10-1 record. The Raiders earned their first unbeaten regular season since 2006, posted their first region title and hosted their first state playoff game since 2013.
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“It is disappointing tonight, but it has been an incredible season,” Brundidge said. “I can’t say enough good things about the things the kids have done, how hard they worked and how they came together as a team. It has been a fun year.
“It hurts right now, but it’s supposed to. If it didn’t then it didn’t mean much to you in the first place. When you pour your heart and soul into it, it’s supposed to hurt. Still it was a great season.”
Special teams, normally a Raider strength, struggled, allowing a punt return for a score and giving up field position after a bad snap led to just an 11-yard punt, leading to a Leopard touchdown. A long interception return led to a third Mobile Christian touchdown on a short field.
The Leopards posted their final two scores – a field goal and a touchdown in the fourth quarter – after the Raiders lost quarterback Kadyn Mitchell and star receiver Will Wells, who both had got banged up by the Mobile Christian defense.
“We knew it would a tough game coming in and we knew we would have to play good, but we didn’t play well and they did,” Brundidge said. “They were the better team tonight. That is just the bottom line.”
Even before the injuries, the Raiders offense was finding the going tough against an aggressive, fast and hard-hitting Leopard defense. Defensive end Sterling Dixon was in the Raider backfield all night, recording four quarterback sacks and harassing Mitchell and back-up Judson Bailey.
For the night, Houston Academy finished with 130 total yards of offense, including only 44 on the ground.
“They have got a good, solid team across the defense all the way from the front to linebackers to the secondary,” Brundidge. “They are pretty solid on defense.”
The Raider defense bowed up well early, but wore down late and allowed a season-high in points, though short fields aided some of the scoring.
“All three phases were off – offense, defense and special teams,” Brundidge said. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Behind a 42-yard run by Devin Harris on the game’s first series, Mobile Christian had field position in its favor in the first quarter, keeping the Raiders inside the 15 in the first two possessions.
The Raiders’ Lucius Renshaw boomed a 45-yard punt on his second effort, but Mobile Christian’s Aaron Rogers fielded it at the Leopard 46 on the right side, spun around to the left with a wall of blockers on way to a 54-yard punt return for a score. Austin Allen added the point after kick to make it 7-0 with 1:08 left in the opening quarter.
The Raiders, in their best offensive series of the night, moved on the next series from their 23 to the Mobile Christian 2 before setting for an 18-yard Renshaw field goal with 5:31 left in the second quarter that made it 7-3 .
The drive was sparked by Mitchell completing 7-of-8 passes, including a 20-yarder to George Zeron to convert 3rd-and-15 after a Dixon sack. Mitchell spread the wealth around, also completing passes of 8 and 6 yards to Jeb Daughtry, 10 and 15 yards to Wells, 3 yards to Will Pitchford and 12 yards to Brady Whigham in the series.
After getting to the 7, an illegal man downfield penalty backed HA up to the 12 and the Raiders couldn’t overcome it getting a 6-yard pass and two Mitchell runs of 4 and 0 yards before the field goal.
With 44.9 seconds left in the half, Houston Academy was forced to punt. A bad snap to the right went off Renshaw’s hands, but he was able to pick it up, avoid a defend and get off a punt. However, it went out of bounds just 11 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the 45.
Two plays later, Landen Snow, the second of three quarterbacks used by Mobile Christian, fired a 38-yard pass down the sideline to Jaxon Roberts after being forced to scramble to his left, putting the Leopards at the 7.
After a spike to stop the clock and a motion penalty, Snow scrambled to his right for a 12-yard TD run with 3.1 seconds left in the half as the Leopards went up 14-3.
On HA’s opening series of the second half, Mitchell earned a first down, escaping a potential sack by Dixon with a spin move before racing for 12 yards to the 40. A high snap forced Mitchell to eat six yards then on second down, the Raider quarterback tried to go deep but Mobile Christian’s Camden Lawson intercepted it and returned it more than 45 yards to the Raider 16.
Three plays later, Mobile Christian’s Patrick Sullivan Jr scored on a 1-yard run off right end. Houston Academy’s Ethan Coachman blocked the extra point kick, leaving it 20-3 with 7:47 to go in the third.
Two possessions later, both Mitchell and Wells went out with injuries. The back-up unit, led by Bailey at quarterback and Hughes Williams at running back, ignited a spark with two first downs and moving to the Leopards 48 – just the second time HA had been in Mobile Christian territory – but the Leopard defense rose up and forced a punt.
Taking over with 11:55 left in the game, Mobile Christian drove from the Raider 4 after a 43-yard Renshaw punt and moved to the Raider 15 before Allen converted a 33-yard field goal. A 32-yard Sullivan to Ben Brewer pass and a 41-yard run by Harris sparked the series.
After another Raider punt, Mobile Christian earned its final score on a six-play, 69-yard drive with Rogers scoring on a 17-yard run to finish it. Allen’s PAT kick made it 30-3.