FOOTBALL

Holtville secures historic season with 31-27 win over Sylacauga

Nick Alvarez
Montgomery Advertiser

HOLTVILLE — The band, at the instruction of a Holtville coach to play louder, acquiesced. It was a celebration, after all. It was late in the fourth quarter, and Drew Pickett was resting after running for his fourth touchdown minutes earlier. 

Teammates approached the sophomore running back in waves. Some clasped Pickett's shoulder pad. Others embraced him. One touched temples with Pickett and said, "Thank you." 

Holtville had defeated Sylaguaga, 31-27, after a breakout night for Pickett (264 total yards), who eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in just his seventh game. Nearly each Bulldog coach was showered with water or Gatorade in the minutes following the final buzzer. Most fans stayed and cheered, too. Friday night was historic at Boykin-Chapman Field and no one wanted to leave. 

For the first time since 1986, Holtville is hosting a playoff game. 

"It means a great deal for this community to be able to be successful and see their guys be successful," Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. 

This is Franklin's fourth year at Holtville and first in Class 5A, Region 4. The Bulldogs moved up during the offseason. Franklin believed the strength and weight program he implemented readied the team for this moment. 

Holtville coach Jason Franklin before the Sylacauga game on the Holtville campus in Deatsville, Ala., on Friday evening October 23, 2020.

An offensive lineman carried a flag onto the field with a pancake on it, referencing the unit's goal – a flattening block. The line led the way for Pickett on his first touchdown run and on others throughout the game. 

Friday was the closest game Holtville has had with a full roster. COVID-19 protocols had sidelined at least a few players up to that point. The Bulldogs played Week One with eight starters out, including Pickett, and beat Southside by one. 

Franklin has said all season this group has the "it" factor. He showcased that faith in the second quarter. Late in the half, the Aggies led by seven and forced a punt attempt deep in Holtville's part of the field. After motioning two people over, Drake Riordan, the punter, threw a fake across-field at Cooper Mann for the conversion. 

They practiced the fake every Tuesday and Wednesday, Franklin said. They were waiting for the right defensive front, and right opportunity, to unveil it and Franklin picked the perfect time. Two plays later, Pickett carried the ball across the goal line. 

"We've instilled a workman's mentality," Franklin said. "We're reaping the benefits of this now."

The Bulldogs went for it on multiple fourth downs, converting some but losing others. Calab Burns and Maleek Pope carried the load for Sylacauga, ripping off chunk yards. Luke Vincent hauled the lone passing touchdown of the game in the third quarter between two defenders for the lead. 

Holtville's Drew Pickett (8) is greeted by fans after scoring a late touchdown against Sylacauga on the Holtville campus in Deatsville, Ala., on Friday evening October 23, 2020.

But Pickett kept running. The crowd buzzed in the fourth quarter, some clamoring for more handoffs to keep the clock ticking. After an 11-yard gain, an Aggies coach yelled, "They're gonna keep running it 'til you stop it." 

Pickett's only reception may have been the play of the game. With the score tied in the fourth quarter, he caught a screen pass and spun out of a tackle from Sylacauga's 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman Christian Twymon. 

When Pickett scored the game-sealing touchdown later in the frame, Franklin sprinted onto the field. He hip-checked an offensive lineman mid-air and was knocked to the ground. Before he stood, he posed on the ground and smiled, taking the moment in. 

"You bought into being winners," Franklin said postgame. "... We're starting to get there."