RCHS returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to set up a short touchdown, forced a Wadley 3-and-out, then scored again on a 51-yard drive. Three possessions into the game it looked like the Tigers were going to run the Bulldogs out of their own building.
But after that things took an unexpected and dramatic turn.
RCHS ended up winning the game. But Wadley made their path to that victory much more difficult than those first three possessions could have ever foretold. The end result was that the Tigers needed a fourth down stop at the two-yard line in overtime to sneak out of Wadley with a 34-28 victory.
Avion Willis's 10-yard touchdown run on third down in OT turned out to be the difference in the final score. But even then the game was not settled. Wadley blocked the PAT following that touchdown, so the Bulldogs took possession knowing that a touchdown and an extra point meant victory.
But the RCHS defense plugged up the line scrimmage better than it had all night and pushed Wadley backwards, into a last-gasp, fourth-and-11 play. The Bulldogs called a halfback pass, and Jaquez Wilkes fought through duress to complete the throw in the flat to Isacc Minnifield around the four-yard line. Minnifield fought forward but was brought down two yards short of the goal line, and the celebration was on for the visiting Tigers.
So what happened after RCHS's dominant start that brought about that heart-pounding finish? In two words, Jaquez Wilkes happened. That's the simplistic explanation. But in reality it was a Wadley offensive front that refused to be manhandled by an older and bigger RCHS defensive line. AND it was Wilkes taking full advantage.
Wilkes had 30-plus carries for the third straight game and finished with 195 yards and two touchdowns Friday on 38 runs. Those 38 carries by Wilkes equaled the total number of offensive plays that Randolph County ran in the entire game as a team. By comparison, Wadley had a total of 70 offensive snaps.
That dominance in time of possession came as a result of a tide-turning pair of drives that bridged the halftime break. Wadley took possession with 6:17 to go in the second quarter trailing 21-6 after a 48-yard touchdown run by RCHS's Austin Terrell.
Wadley exhausted that entire 6:17 with a 13-play drive that ended on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Mason Wilkerson to Minnifield as time expired. It was a huge momentum boost that sent Wadley into the locker room trailing just 21-14 and knowing that they would have the ball to start the second half.
That opening possession of the third quarter was another clock killing drive that covered 63 yards on 15 plays and ate up just over seven minutes of the third quarter. Wilkes capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 21-21.
As much as anything, those two Wadley possessions erased that early hot start by RCHS.
But the Tigers responded as well. After the teams swapped punts with the score tied, Terrell once again shed a few tackler and broke free for a long touchdown, this time for 55 yards. That put RCHS back on top 28-21.
But Wadley and Wilkes had one more burst in them as well. Wilkes saved his longest run for the ensuing drive, a 34-yard equalizer that knotted things back at 28-28 and led to the dramatic overtime finish.
Terrell led RCHS with 130 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Willis had two short touchdown runs on four carries, and Quin Johnson's only run of the night was a 4-yard touchdown run that gave RCHS its first points of the game.
Cortavion Lynch ran 12 times for 44 yards and a touchdown for Wadley, and Wilkerson completed 4-of-7 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
The win keeps RCHS unbeaten at 5-0 on the season, while Wadley falls to 2-4 with the loss.
Handley 37, Lanett 0
Handley's defense limited Lanett to minus-3 yards of total offense, and the Tigers jumped out a 30-0 lead through two quarters on their way to a 37-0 victory.
Handley played the game without star running back Jay Haynes, who suffered an ankle injury during last week's contest against Clay Central.
E.J. Goss stepped into the role of lead running back and performed well, finishing with 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries.
Quarterback Cannon Kyles was sharp in the passing game as he completed 13-of-20 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, without an interception. That touchdown pass went to Devontae Higgins, who finished with three catches for 47 yards. Jamerqui Lewis led the Handley receiving corps with four receptions for 69 yards.
Cardarious Lee also had a touchdown run for Handley, and Koye White's quarterback sack in the end zone resulted a safety for Handley in the first quarter.
Handley remains unbeaten at 6-0 with the win. The Tigers will turn their attention to a critical region showdown at Anniston next week in a battle of unbeaten teams.
Clay Central 21, Alexandria 7
Clay Central got the win in the first-ever meeting between these two 5A powerhouse programs. All of the Vols' points came in the third quarter after the teams reached halftime in a scoreless stalemate.
Central is now 3-2 at the halfway mark of its season.