By Johnny Sanders, Sports Editor
LEEDS – Friday night was the annual Battle of the Bridge rivalry game between the Moody Blue Devils and the Leeds Greenwave in Leeds, Alabama at Homer Smiles field and it did not disappoint. If you only watched the first half, you would have been surprised that this was not the defensive battle that it looked like it would be on paper. Thankfully for those in attendance, and there were a lot of them, this was a game of two halves and those who saw it were definitely entertained. Offense owned the first half and defense owned the second, leading to a Leeds Greenwave 24-21 win over their rivals from the other side of the bridge.
Leeds started with the ball and marched it right down the field on the vaunted Moody defense. The Blue Devils had no answer for Conner Nelson and ZJ Dale as Leeds ran the ball five times out of the six plays on the drive, ending with a 12-yard burst from Dale to put the Greenies up 7-0 with 9:08 to go in the first quarter. Moody would find a little success on the ground themselves, but Blaine Burke would fumble on a first down carry from the 35 that would set Leeds up in good shape inside Blue Devil territory. After a Nelson pass to Dale for 30 yards got the Greenwave to the four-yard line, Nelson would call his own number and with 5:45 to go in the opening period, Leeds held a 14-0 lead.
On the next drive, Moody would get back to their old, explosive selves on offense. Burke would work the ball down to the 38-yard line where Charlie Johnston would drop back and find Josiah Dozier for a touchdown to get on the board and narrow the gap to 14-7 at the 4:18 mark of the first. Not to be outdone, Leeds would put together another scoring drive, this time capped off by a 27-yard scamper by Dale with just 43 seconds left in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, Moody continued to have success on offense, getting the ball down to the 30-yard line where Johnston would find KD Barnes for the big touchdown strike with 8:04 to go in the half. Leeds would put together a drive, but an errant pitch from Nelson to Dale would fall to the turf where Zane Smith would pounce on it and give Moody a chance to tie the game before half. Kavion Henderson and company would shut Moody down, however, and the Blue Devils would punt the ball back to Leeds. Content with the one-touchdown lead, Hood’s Greenies would run the ball and eventually punt it to Moody just before the half.
Moody started the third with the ball and they continued their momentum on offense, even going for a fourth and four from the 50 when Johnston found Aidan Robinson to get the first down. The drive ended with Barnes catching his second pass of the night and his second touchdown, this time from 35 yards out. Junior Moreno would tie the game up with the PAT and the crowd and the Moody sideline would come to life.
But Leeds would not go away. They got the ball back and drove it for a bit, but they would have to punt it back to Moody and the momentum was squarely with the Blue Devils at this point. As great teams do, Leeds responded. The defense held Moody to a punt and the third quarter would end in a 21-21 tie.
Both defenses would play fantastic football over the next few drives, holding the opposition to punts for much of the quarter. Backed up at their own 8, Moody would move the ball to the 19. From there, Blaine Burke would take a second and six carry but fumble it and Leeds would take over. The Greenwave would not have any success moving the ball but they would put a field goal on the board when Avery Lankford split the uprights with a 30-yard field goal to put Leeds up 24-21 with 4:31 to go in the game.
Moody would get the ball back with plenty of time to score and they would drive the ball all the way to the 15-yard line. Johnston would look to Chase Jackson on consecutive pass plays, but both would be incomplete. With 20 seconds to go, Junior Moreno would line up for a field goal to tie the game, but a host of Leeds defenders would break through the line and block it. Nelson would take a knee on the next play and time would run out. Those in green would celebrate and those in blue would not.
For Moody, Blaine Burke finished with 121 yards on 21 carries and Charlie Johnston was 14 of 22 for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
For Leeds, Conner Nelson finished four of nine for 54 yards through the air but did most of his damage on the ground, running it 19 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. ZJ Dale had a great night running the ball as well, gaining 93 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
“At the end, we were trying to take a shot to Chase Jackson,” said Moody’s Jake Ganus. “The first one he caught out of bounds and the second his arm was being held, but we still have to make a play there. He’s as close as we have to Davion (Dozier) and he’s been playing receiver since spring. He’s a phenomenal receiver. The Offensive line played phenomenal. The Leeds D-line is really good. The two ends get a lot of attention, but the inside guys are good too. Our offense executed the game plan but we had two turnovers. Defense played great. They gave up the three early touchdowns, but then nothing after that other than the field goal when we gave them the ball deep in our territory. I am super proud of them and my whole team.”
Leeds’ Jerry Hood said of the game, “Early on I was surprised how they played us. Last year they played us a little bit differently and we had great success. I’m proud of our kids for toughing it out. Avery (Lankford), this is his first time playing football. What he knows about kicking is what I’ve told him. He has turned into a great kicker and tonight’s kickoffs were incredible.”
Hood continued, “We’ve been in these before. Last year we played Ramsay at Legion Field and we played Moody in a big game. We have had a few of them. You just don’t let your emotions go crazy when something bad happens and you play the next play. That’s what we did tonight. You’re seeing this young team grow up a little bit right now.”
Leeds quarterback Conner Nelson was happy after the game. “I feel fantastic. Yall can say the pressure is on me but this is a team sport. We played fantastic throughout offense, defense…everybody just played great. I think this team is really coming together.”
Leeds will travel to Lincoln next week and follow that up by hosting Center Point in a game that could help Leeds out a good bit with a win, if there is a three-way tie. Moody will look to make it a three-way tie by taking on the current top team in the region next week in Southside Gadsden, who holds a victory over Leeds from earlier in the month.