SMYRNA- The Smyrna Bulldogs (6-4, 5-1) rallied to defeat the Stewarts Creek Red Hawks (8-2, 4-2) 24-21 in a pivotal Region 3 home game on Friday night.
The win left Smyrna unbeaten in the cross town rivalry, and more importantly, earned the Bulldogs a No. 2 seed and home playoff game next week.
The Bulldogs will host No. 3 seed Independence, while Stewarts Creek will travel to Ravenwood.
“This is huge for our kids,” Smyrna coach Matt Williams said. “It’s something we’ve worked for and fought for all season. We’ve had some down times but always have had control of our destiny.”
With the Red Hawks outgaining Smyrna by almost 150 yards and grabbing an early 14-0 lead, it was the Bulldog special teams that took control, scoring the first 17 of 24 unanswered for Smyrna.
Stewarts Creek broke the 0-0 tie late in the first with two touchdowns in a 1:10 span.
The first was the first play from scrimmage after forcing a Bulldog fumble on a 75-yard strike from Alex Krenk to Jaylen Moore.
“I told the coaches to throw me the ball,” Moore, who finished with over 100 yards receiving, said. “He (Krenk) put it right in my hands. It was just a good play.”
The Red Hawks then forced another Smyrna fumble, and it took Amari Jelks two plays to punch it in the end zone to give Stewarts Creek the 14-0 lead.
Smyrna stopped the bleeding with a 28-yard field goal by Noah Shalz. The Bulldogs then got a blocked punt by Douglas Belcher that was picked up for a score by Brendan Benthall to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Red Hawks at halftime.
“It was a team effort,” Benthall said. “Douglas Belcher blocked it. I heard the block and then saw the ball in front of me and I just picked it up and took off with it.”
To open the second half Smyrna forced a three-and-out, and the Red Hawks fumbled the snap on the punt. The ball was recovered by none other than Benthall, who took it in for his second touchdown of the night, giving the Bulldogs their first lead at 17-14.
“The punt block was huge,” Williams said. “We were down 14-0 and were able to make it 14-10 by halftime and then come out to start the half with another huge special teams play. Couldn’t be prouder of our kids and coach Embry our special teams coordinator did a great job preparing those guys all week.”
On the ensuing possession, the Smyrna defense came up big with an interception by Jeremiah Bailey, setting up a long scoring drive and ultimately the game winner, capped by a 6-yard touchdown run for Mikel Hartfield, who led Smyrna with 79 yards on 14 carries.
Stewarts Creek mustered one final scoring drive late in the fourth, with the touchdown going to Jelks, who finished with 113 total yards and two scores.