ALABASTER -- Head coach Smitty Grider had two major concerns heading into the Dothan Wolves’ first game Saturday afternoon.
One was the potential heat for a mid-afternoon game.
The second was wondering how his team would handle adversity.
The first didn’t really materialize too much thanks to an overcast day filled with light rain and an eventual weather delay, but the second produced a mix bag for Dothan.
Playing for the first time as a new program after the consolidation of Northview and Dothan high schools, the debut started badly, got better with a strong second-quarter surge, but turned ugly during a 37-14 loss to Class 6A No. 4 ranked Clay-Chalkville at Thompson’s Warrior Stadium.
“We did a great job overcoming it (adversity) in the first half, getting ourselves back in the game and had a lot of momentum,” Grider said. “We came out and got a stop on the first series of the second half, but go three-and-out and get a bad punt. They take over on the 30 and get that score in and it got away from us from that point.”
Dothan had five turnovers, including two costly mistakes in the first quarter that helped the Cougars to a 16-0 lead eight minutes into the game.
The Wolves, though, shook off the early woes and fought back to 16-14 at halftime behind two lengthy drives, highlighted by a fourth-down conversion on each series. They went to the halftime break brimming with momentum and a spark in their run to the locker room.
However, the Cougars roared after intermission with touchdowns on their first three possessions to seize a 37-14 lead by the end of the third quarter. They capitalized on a bad punt and an interception to build the margin.
Clay-Chalkville also totally bottled up the Dothan offense in the second half, allowing only one first down and 36 yards in eight possessions.
The last two Wolves’ turnovers, both interceptions, came in the final minutes after the game was well decided.
The turnovers were just part of an overall rough day, Grider said.
“We have a lot to fix,” the coach said. “We had a lot of issues on the sidelines with our technology and with our organization. We have to be better than that.”
Two of key mistakes came off the kicking game. One was a muffed fumble on a Clay-Chalkville kickoff that resulted in a safety and was followed by an ensuing Cougar touchdown drive. The other was a short punt that bounced backwards, resulting in a minus 5-yard punt, setting up the Cougars for a 30-yard scoring drive that started the third-quarter onslaught.
“We had a bad punt and had a safety on a kickoff and you can’t do that against a good team like Clay-Chalkville,” Grider said, referring to a 16-point swing for the Cougars, a state semifinal team last season.
While the start and ending were negatives, the second quarter surge was a potential building block for the Wolves.
After the early 16-0 hole, Dothan dominated the final 14 minutes of the first half to cut the deficit to 16-14.
In their last two series of the first half, the Wolves racked up eight first downs and 139 yards after failing to get a first down and only 3 yards in their first three possessions (including the muffed kick return/safety). In addition, they allowed only two first downs and 50 yards (36 on one pass play) in the final three Cougar series after giving up 105 yards, five first downs and two scores on the first two possessions.
More importantly, Dothan posted two touchdowns, the last in the half’s final three-and-a minutes, instead of two turnovers and kept Clay-Chalkville at bay.
Dothan marched 53 yards in 13 plays for the first score, a 4-yard TD pass on a slant toss from quarterback Jamal Lane to Jabre Barber with 6:31 left in the half.
The drive was sparked by a 4-yard run on a fourth-and-1 conversion from the Cougar 21 by Barber.
After Clay-Chalkville missed a 41-yard field goal wide right, the Wolves, scrambling in the half’s final minutes, marched 80 yards in 11 plays to draw closer. Quarterback Lane scored on a 5-yard scramble to the right side with 29.2 seconds left in the half.
The drive was keyed by the Wolves’ gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 29 with two minutes to go. Dothan, in its jumbo package, converted on a 6-yard run by Barber to the right side. DHS also converted a timely third-and-14 from its own 47 with a 29-yard catch and run by Ta’Bryious Webb from Lane.
Brody Barnett converted both point after kicks for the Wolves.
“I thought it was great,” Grider said of the second-quarter drives. “We were doing the two-minute drill to perfection. We went down there got a score. We did it just like we wanted to. We just have to perform better coming out of the half. That is where the game got out of hand on us.”
After allowing one first down on Clay-Chalkville’s first third quarter series, the Wolves forced a punt, but couldn’t move on its initial second-half series.
Then came the bad punt that bounced back and allowed Clay-Chalkville to start at the 31. Three plays later, the Cougars’ Damione Ward, who accounted for four TDs in the game (three rushing, one passing), scored on a 1-yard run after a 26-yard completion from Ward to Tristan Jones set up the score.
Right before the extra point try, a lightning bolt was spotted in the sky, forcing the teams into the locker rooms for a weather delay of 33 minutes.
When the teams returned, the Cougars added the point after kick and kept the momentum going with an interception three plays later. They cashed that turnover in with a Ward 1-yard TD run three plays later, boosting the margin to 30-14 with 5:49 to go in the third.
After Dothan’s third-straight three-and-out series of the second half, Clay-Chalkville padded the margin with a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Ward, after dropping back to pass, stepped up in the pocket and found Jones open for an 11-yard TD pass with 1:09 left in the quarter, making it 37-14.
Neither team generated much offense in the final quarter.
Clay-Chalkville, which scored all of its points in the first and third quarters, scored on its opening possession of the game on a 1-yard run by Justin Dawson that capped an 11-play, 51-yard drive. The Cougars, who were 5-of-8 on third down conversions in the first half, converted three third-and-1 plays in the series.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dothan’s return man misjudged the kick and had to retreat for it. It bounced off his hands and fell to the turf between the goal line and 1-yard line. He picked it up in the end zone and was tackled by two Cougars for a safety, giving Clay-Chalkville a 9-0 lead with 5:49 to go in the first quarter.
After a 23-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set Clay-Chalkville up at the 50-yard line, the Cougars scored in four plays. Ward faked a speed sweep to a receiver and bolted to the right side for a 12-yard TD run that made it 16-0 Cougars with 4:24 to go in the first quarter.
Below are some of the program’s historical firsts for Dothan from Saturday’s game:
First Dothan play: Ta’Bryious Webb with a 1-yard run.
First Dothan pass: An interception thrown by Jamal Lane on the third play of the game.
First Dothan tackle on defense: Jamie Dawsey on Clay-Chalkville’s first play, a 7-yard run by quarterback Damione Ward.
First Dothan pass completion: Jamal Lane to Jabre Barber for a 1-yard gain on Dothan’s third play of the third series.
First Dothan first down: A 7-yard run by Ta’Bryious Webb on the second play of the fourth Wolves drive. It was also the last play of the first quarter.
First Dothan touchdown: A 4-yard touchdown pass from Jamal Lane to Jabre Barber with 6:31 to go in the second quarter on a slant pass to the left side.
First point after kick conversion: Brody Barnett after the Lane to Barber touchdown in the second quarter.