From these eyes, the debut of the Dothan Wolves football program was a howling success.
Head football coach Smitty Grider thought so, too.
“We played them off their feet for a half,” Grider told his team afterwards. “I’m proud of you. I wanted to see you compete, and we competed.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort, it wasn’t a lack of talent, it was a lack of execution. The first time out as a Wolf – I’m proud.”
The first ever scrimmage of the Dothan Wolves – the combination of Dothan and Northview players who are now united heading into the consolidation of the two programs this coming school year – came against perennial powerhouse Hoover.
The scoreboard at the end of a steamy Saturday afternoon game at Rip Hewes Stadium read Hoover 28, Dothan 16, but there was so much more to read into the game than the points total.
“The question I wanted answering was would we compete with the best, and I think we answered that,” Grider said. “The first half we stood in there toe-to-toe with the best program in the state, which is where we’re trying to get. I was really proud with that.
“The defense, other than a couple of plays, played well. We got some three-and-outs. Offensively, we moved the ball well in the first half. Extremely proud of where we are.”
Quite frankly, it’s remarkable where the program actually is after just nine on-the-field practices.
Dothan even led at halftime – 16-14 – after Jabre Barber caught a slant pass from Jamal Lane and dashed 51 yards into the end zone with just 16 seconds left before intermission. The extra point kick was blocked, but it was a strong ending to a well-played first half.
The fans showed their appreciation with cheers as the teams took a break. It had been evident from the beginning this wasn’t a typical spring football scrimmage.
Despite sweltering conditions during a month when spring sports normally dominate the conversation, fans showed up in big numbers to get their first glance of the newly-formed Wolves.
A souvenir stand was set up inside the stadium allowing students and fans to buy Dothan Wolves shirts, caps and the like.
It had the feel of a regular season opener as the Wolves’ players gathered and chanted before running onto the field for the first time in uniform to the delight of their fans.
It wasn’t just another spring game for Hoover, either. The team from Birmingham busted through a banner reading TURNING THE PAGE TO A NEW SEASON as a large gathering of their fans cheered from the visiting side of the stadium.
On the Dothan side, students dressed casually in Hawaiian shirts chanted “Smitty Grider, Smitty Grider, Smitty Grider” in showing appreciation to their new coach, while the Dothan cheer team yelled “We are….Dothan Wolves.”
Keegan Dutton booted the first kickoff down to the 5 and the Hoover returner was brought down by a pack of Wolves at the 17. The first pass was almost intercepted by the Wolves and on the second play the Bucs’ running back was wrestled down by linebacker Preston Whitaker for a loss.
However, Hoover then completed a long pass and it didn’t take long for the Bucs to put the first points on the scoreboard, leading 7-0 with 8:47 to play in the first quarter.
Dothan then got to work behind the duo of Lane and Barber as the two connected on several quick passes to get things rolling. Running back Ta’Bryious Webb would make a fantastic 19-yard run later in the drive down to the 1, and Barber would take a direct snap on first-and-goal and go straight up the gut behind a strong line to score the first Wolves’ touchdown. Brady Barnett added the PAT and it was tied at 7-7.
After Dothan forced Hoover to punt on the ensuing possession, the Bucs came up with a big interception and return of about 60 yards that would lead to a short TD run and 14-7 advantage in the first minute of the second quarter.
The Wolves would pull within 14-10 on a 28-yard field goal by Dutton midway through the quarter before Dothan took the lead on the long touchdown catch by Barber just before halftime.
Things got a bit sloppy on both sides in the third quarter as the hot conditions began taking a toll.
Hoover scored on a 7-yard pass with 8:52 to play in the third and on another TD pass with 5:49 left in the quarter to make it 28-16 after the PATs.
It should be noted that Barber – the star for Dothan in the first half – only played at the beginning of the second half before leaving with cramps and didn’t return the rest of the game.
In the fourth quarter, each team alternated running 20 plays without using a clock to finish out the scrimmage as more reserves saw playing time.
“The points they scored – we didn’t give them, they earned everything – but we made some mistakes for it to happen,” Grider said. “I’m just really proud of the effort, the job the coaches did getting them ready. Nine days of practice to get this football team put together is an amazing feat.”
Tim Gillespie, the offensive coordinator for Dothan, is the only assistant currently on the staff that has worked with Grider.
“I thought we worked well together, especially for a lot of us that have been hired but we still live out of town and are coming in trying to know the kids and put them in the right places and mesh together as a staff,” Gillespie said. “I was very pleased with the continuity of how everything went.
“I think offensively it was a success, and we also made enough mistakes that we have a lot of stuff to work on in the summer to get to where we want to be when the season starts. You’re never satisfied, but you can be pleased.”
Grider also knows there is much work to be done, but was proud of the start.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I think you saw the beginnings of something special,” Grider said. “We had a big crowd for a spring game and I hope they were pleased with what they saw and will come back in the fall and support us.”
I’ve got a feeling those fans and many, many more will be at Rip Hewes Stadium the next time the Wolves rush onto the field.
If Saturday is a true indicator of things to come, the new Dothan High can be a real rallying point for the city.