IRONDALE — It looked like Florence was about to pull the upset, but Shades Valley found magic on fourth-and-14 with 3:06 left in regulation.
Quarterback RaShad Louie connected with Keith Mixon for a 68-yard touchdown pass to give Shades Valley the lead. Then, the No. 3-ranked Mounties held on for a thrilling 37-35 victory over No. 6-Florence in a Class 6A matchup Friday at Shades Valley.
“We had a great gameplan, but we had a few mental lapses,” said Florence coach J.B. Wallace, who was making his head coaching debut. “You hate to lose any game. They made a lot of plays and we have a lot to work on.”
Florence nearly won the game on its final drive. Roland Adams powered his way through the line for six yards to convert on 4th-and-6 to put the ball on the Florence 38. The Falcons only managed four yards to bring up another 4th-and-6 situation. Quarterback Blake Hawkins attempted a deep pass to William Barnett, but the pass was just over Barnett’s outstretched arms.
“I stepped up in the pocket and put a little too much adrenaline in (the throw),” Hawkins said.
Hawkins finished the game with 89 rushing and 180 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns.
Florence senior defensive lineman Jordan Dollerson had his way with anyone who tried to block him. Dollerson finished the game with three sacks, including a fumble recovery in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
“I would’ve loved to have come out with the win, but I just do what my coaches tell me to do,” Dollerson said. “Three years of technique and working on my body, I just came out and (played).”
Florence rallied from a 24-14 halftime deficit to take a 28-24 lead. But Louie put Shades Valley ahead again with a 1-yard run, but it didn’t last long, as Adams burst through for a 24-yard touchdown run with 3:54 left to give Florence a brief 35-31 lead.
Despite the loss, Dollerson said the team is resilient and will always fight back.
“It just shows that we’re not going to back down to anybody,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to play hard for all four quarters.”
The Falcons started slowly in the first quarter as Louie displayed his speed, darting past defenders on his way for a 74-yard touchdown run.
Florence responded later in the quarter when Hawkins found Barnett for a 42-yard reception down the sideline to put the ball on the 14-yard line, but Shades Valley held and Daron Payne intercepted a pass on a botched field goal attempt to stop the threat.
Shades Valley recovered a bad snap on a punt at the FHS 6 near the end of the first quarter, but the Falcons limited the damage to a 20-yard field goal.
Mixon added another score on a 2-yard run to give Shades Valley a 17-0 lead.
Florence finally found its groove later in the second quarter, as Hawkins threw a strike to Adams for a 12-yard touchdown. Shades Valley answered with a touchdown by Mixon, but Hawkins responded with a touchdown of his own with a 40-yard pass to Dee Smith to trim the score to 24-14 that held until halftime.
The Falcons bullied their way through the defense to start the third quarter and scored when Adams ran it in from the 4 yard line to hush the crowd and make the score 24-21.
“We physically got beat down tonight,” Shades Valley coach Bill Smith said. “They gave us a lot of pressure.”
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Gone is coach Jamey DuBose, who made a four-month pit stop at Charles Henderson before accepting the coaching job at Central-Phenix City. First-team All-State quarterback Kendrick Doss is now at Ole Miss. Even the region changed, as Florence will play in Class 6A, Region 8, featuring Muscle Shoals, Athens, Austin, Cullman, Decatur and Hartselle — teams that combined to finish 56-29 last year.
Despite all of the alterations, former defensive coordinator and new coach J.B. Wallace expects to improve upon a 9-4 record that featured the Falcons setting team records for most points in a season (381), most points in a single game (69) and tied the record for most wins in a season (9) en route to a quarterfinal appearance against Hoover.
"Our expectations first and foremost are to win the region," Wallace said. "That's our short-term goal. Our long-term goal is to win a championship.
"Everything has been leading up to where we are right now. This group has done a great job picking up where we left off last year. They're very competitive and have a competitive spirit and that's carried over to this year. They have a refuse-to-lose mentality."
Senior Blake Hawkins will take over at quarterback. Hawkins, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound transfer from Tishimingo (Mississippi) County, is also a three-star quarterback, according to 247Sports, and will run the spread offense.
"I think we're going to be similar to last year's (team)," Wallace said. "We have some things built in where he can use his legs. He's fast and athletic, and we're going to use him very similar to what we did with (Doss)."
Joining Hawkins in the backfield will be senior running back Roland Adams, while Khari Smith and Kameron Davis will also receive carries.
Three-year starter and senior William Barnett will lead the way at receiver, while 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior tight end Tucker Sigle will create matchup problems for defenders.
Senior left tackle Chandler Brewer, who transferred from Central and committed to Middle Tennessee State earlier in the month, will join senior center Tyler Olive on the offensive line. The Falcons will depend heavily on those two, as Vanderbilt signee Cole Hardin and three other starters graduated.
"(Brewer's) going to be an addition to what we have," Wallace said "He's doing a great job learning what we're doing. Tyler Olive has been a starter for two years, so we have a lot of stock in him, as well."
The Falcons defense will be just as potent.
Alabama commit and senior linebacker Keaton Anderson will captain the defense, while nose guard Malik Manciel and defensive end Jordan Dollerson will hold the defense line. Senior safety Dee Smith, a three-star with offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi State and Tennessee, will be tasked with stopping the passing game, as the Falcons will use the 3-4 formation.
"We play about 12 (defensive linemen) on a Friday night," Wallace said.
Linebackers Spencer Currie and Braden White will see plenty of playing time alongside Anderson.
"They're competitive and they're athletic, and that's what you want from your linebackers, Wallace said.
Seniors B.J. Oakley and Lamar Lee will join Smith in the secondary,
"They hold each other accountable," Wallace said. "Anytime things get tough, you've got kids quick to cut corners, but they hold each other accountable and want to do things the right way. That's one thing as far as maturity; they understand the hard work that it takes."
Edson Casarrubias will be the team's kicker.
Florence averaged 29.3 points on offense and allowed 21.3 points last season.