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Long Cane claims league title

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

OPELIKA, Ala. – They were up to the challenge.

The Long Cane Cougars capped a special season with a 20-6 victory over Opelika on a chilly and wet Thursday night in Alabama.

The win gave Long Cane the championship of an eight-team league that includes middle schools from Georgia and Alabama.

Opelika put the ball in the end zone in the first quarter, but it was held scoreless the rest of the way while Long Cane scored three unanswered touchdowns.

“We kept fighting, and we just kept playing,” Long Cane head coach Torre Pike said. “When bad things happen, we’ve got to come right back. They kept overcoming adversity, and they went out and found a way to do it. It was a special night.”

After Opelika scored to take a 6-0 lead, Long Cane came back with a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that was capped by a touchdown run by quarterback A.J. Tucker with less than a minute left in the first half.

Tucker also ran in the two-point conversion attempt, giving the Cougars a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

It looked like the Cougars were going to take an 8-6 lead at the half, but they had other ideas.

Following the touchdown, the Cougars attempted an onside kick that they recovered.

The Cougars took advantage of that break by scoring another touchdown, with De’Aundre Murphy making a leaping catch in the end zone on a pass thrown by OJ Strozier.

Murphy also had a big catch on the Cougars’ first scoring drive.

“I challenged (Murphy),” Pike said. “I told him we’re going back to you. He made some big-time plays.”

Leading 14-6, Long Cane drove for a critical touchdown in the third quarter, with Tucker’s touchdown run giving his team a 20-6 lead.

“The offensive line got a big push, and we just marched the ball down the field,” Pike said.

Pike said Tucker was terrific all season after he stepped in at quarterback because of an injury to the previous starter.

“Everybody trusts him, and leans on him,” Pike said. “He accepted the challenge all year. He’s special.”

After Long Cane scored its final touchdown, the defense did the rest, with Opelika unable to mount a comeback.

Jaylen Young had an interception in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory, and Deo’vion “Bop” Tucker had a key fumble recovery earlier in the game.

“This is a big step for them in their lives,” Pike said. “They got to see when you work hard, and you don’t quit when bad things happen, good things will come. This group is special, all across the board.”

While winning a championship was obviously gratifying for Pike, he took more pleasure in seeing the way the players grew as people and students.

“This group, when they were in the sixth grade, that was my first year I took over as head coach,” Pike said. “Some of them have gone from getting disciplinary referrals to making straight As and Bs. It was getting them to change that thought process. That’s the biggest thing we’ve done, is help them change how they think about themselves, and how they think about success, about life.”

Pike added that “it’s going to be hard to see them go. Everybody doesn’t get to see what the coaches see, from a growing standpoint. It was awesome to see it unfold in that ballgame, the things we’ve taught them.”

TEAM MEMBERS

Ivyon Hargrove, C.J. Sands, Keshun Earl, Deo’vion “Bop” Tucker, A.J. Tucker, Qua Moss, X’zavious Bulger, Dee Heard, Jay Wortham, O.J. Strozker, Trea Blackmon, Wesley Davidson, Amerion Elder, Travis Hodo, Jaylen Young, Monteo Todd, Ty Hines, Camden Roberts, Antarious Hills, Dee Murphy, Christopher Moore, Ryan Scott, Jacob Bailey, T.J. Mitchell, Justin Hines, Zantavious Brewer, Grant Sanders, Kamegiah Dunman, Walker Graham, Demonte Milton, Mikey Posey, Will Keeter, Lane Brown, Jay Bradfield, Bo Dyes, Dexgter Davis, Isiah Hall, Sam Lewis, Eli Jones, Jadarrius Williams, Christian Davis, Josh McDonald, AJ Dawson, Andrew Janney, Richard Davis and Quez Williams

COACHES

Torre Pike (head coach), Mark Cavender, Maurice Swain, Larry Murdock, Don Deavers, Brandon Todd, Patrick Wray, Jaymes Harlen and Jermey Cross