By Johnny Sanders, Sports Editor
MOODY – The Moody Blue Devils hosted the Russellville Golden Tigers on Friday night in the second round of the AHSAA 5A State Playoffs, a familiar place for the Blue Devils as this is the round they were eliminated in last season by Arab. Russellville would have no such luck on this night as Moody used a great passing performance by Charlie Johnston as well as a great defensive performance by that great Blue Devil defense to double up the Tigers and walk away with a 42-21 win.
Moody looked to set the tone early as they knew they were playing one of the top offenses in 5A. On the first drive, the Blue Devils held the Tigers to a punt. Moody drove straight down the field and got the ball down to the one-yard line but could not get the ball into the end zone as Russellville slammed the door on a Blaine Burke run from the one on fourth down.
The Tigers would do nothing with the ball, however, and gave it right back to the Blue Devil offense. A few plays later, Charlie Johnston found Braden Wright for a six-yard touchdown strike to put Moody up 7-0.
On the next drive, the Tigers found success on the ground and go the ball down to the seven-yard line where they would run it on and tie the game at seven each.
Moody would begin to unravel a bit in the second quarter with penalties, some miscommunication on offense and Johnston missing some passes. Russellville would capitalize on the mistakes and go up 14-7 with 2:49 to play in the half.
The Blue Devils, true to form, would not be down for long. They would take the next drive down to the 13 where Johnston would throw his second touchdown of the night, this time on a short pass to Aidan Robinson that the receiver turned into a brilliant 13-yard touchdown to end the half tied at 14 apiece.
Looking to correct what went wrong during the second, Johnston and the Blue Devil offense would get the ball first in the third and promptly drive the ball down the field on the Tiger defense. Johnston would throw yet another touchdown, this time a 19-yard strike to KD Barnes with just 1:28 gone off of the third quarter clock, putting Moody up 21-14.
The vaunted Moody defense pushed Russellville back inside their own 10-yard line where they would punt. A Moody defender ran into the punter, negating an electrifying AJ Madison return for a touchdown. On the next punt attempt, the ball was rolled to the punter and when he tried to kick it, a Moody defender blocked it and Dez Mobley pounced on it in the end zone. The Junior Moreno PAT made it 28-14 and the Blue Devils were rolling.
In the fourth quarter, Moody found themselves deep in Tiger territory, getting it to the six-yard line where Johnston would call his own number on a six-yard run to paydirt and put his team up 35-14 with 10:59 to play.
With 2:25 to go in the game, Russellville finished off a dominating drive against the Moody substitutes to make it 35-21. The ensuing kickoff was an onside attempt that Blaine Burke scooped up and took 48 yards for the game’s final score, making it 42-21.
A returning Amon Lane-Ganus, happy to be back after a long time away, said, “It’s been 86 days man. I’m just glad to be here. I’m seven weeks early. It’s nothing but God and hard work. He allowed me a second chance to come back and help my teammates and be on the field with my coaches. This community is great. We just want to keep going and stacking them bricks. Being back on the field is everything for me. I would die for every last one of these dudes. These coaches, they do so much for us and I just want to give back. This is a big win but we are not done yet.”
Quarterback Charlie Johnston said, “After struggling a bit in the second quarter, I felt like our energy was a little low going into the locker room. Scoring before the half was huge. We went back to 0-0. I went in there and told them we had to pick up our energy. I talked to every receiver and asked what they were seeing and where they were open. We got on the same page and started clicking and we were able to find the gaps and make plays. When I came here, I was thrown right into it with the mindset of hard work. I think everyone has done a good job of putting in work. Coach Ganus has taught us about pursuit and going far in the playoffs. I’m super excited for next week!”
Linebacker Gavyn Baker said, “It’s an honor to be a leader on this defense. We just want to stay hungry for that next opponent and challenge ourselves to do the best we can every game. Our physicality and relying on each other is what makes us so good and our coaches put us in great position to make plays.”
A focused Jake Ganus had the following to say about his team. “I am really proud of them. We fought hard in the first half. We made some mistakes. Turned it over and got stopped on a couple of fourth down plays. Coming out the second half, we score and get some stops and score on special teams, which was awesome tonight. All three phases were working together and that’s what it takes to win playoff games. Every team is good and they’re going to give you their best. I am proud of our guys and coaches. I’m proud of our composure. Last year, if we go down 14-0, I don’t know. I trust our leadership and our seniors. They keep everything in order.”
Speaking of Johnston’s performance, Ganus said, “His composure is unbelievable. He’s still a kid. He got hit and missed some throws. I walked in at halftime and he was smiling and composed. No doubt in my mind that we could open it up and he would work. His composure is unmatched. He works his tail off and he’s a great kid and it shows.”
Ganus, on what it meant to have his son (Amon Lane-Ganus) back on the field, “It felt good. I tried to speak positive life and energy over that for the time he was out. He came back seven weeks early. That’s a testament to him and Jesus. He could have taken his time with therapy or waited until the Under Armor All-Star game, he could have done so many things. He chose to come and play with his teammates and play for me. Man, it was special.”
The Blue Devils will host a third-round game against the defending 5A champion Ramsay Rams, who scored a 42-7 win over Leeds Friday night. Moody has never won a third-round playoff game.