FLORENCE — Coach Jamey DuBose said all along this Florence team is one that would have to build toward greatness as the season progressed. With two wins against the state’s fourth-ranked team in the past three weeks, the Falcons are trying to prove him right going into the playoffs.
Florence (7-3), which knocked off then-No. 4 Austin two weeks ago, used a strong performance by quarterback Kendrick Doss, dug in defensively in the second half and took advantage of a special-teams miscue to hand Class 6A fourth-ranked Vestavia Hills a 28-21 loss Friday in their regular-season finale at Braly Stadium.
“Right now, I think we’re the hot football team out of the North,” DuBose said. “Who’s hotter? I hate to throw that out there, but I’m proud of the way these guys are playing. They’ve really bought in and are doing everything our coaches want them to do.”
Doss completed 11 of 18 passes for 153 yards and a 25-yard score. The junior also netted 102 yards rushing on 19 carries, the longest coming a read-option keeper on which he out-ran the secondary down the sideline for 74 yards to tie it at 14 and swing momentum in Florence’s favor on the first play of the second half.
Doss had three rushing touchdowns, all after halftime, adding a pair of 4-yard scoring runs.
Perhaps the quarterback’s only mistake came on a fumbled handoff exchange at the Vestavia 10-yard line, giving the Rebels life just when the Falcons threatened to add a game-icing score with 4:11 to play.
Florence led 28-21 and looked to make it a two-score game, driving 59 yards in seven plays. An awkward exchange on an end-around put the ball on the turf, and Vestavia recovered at the Falcons 17.
“It was just a miscommunication between me and the slot receiver,” Doss said. “I read the end, and it was just a miss-read. But I had full confidence in our defense that they would stop them.
“The defensive leaders told me at halftime that when we started scoring, they would shut it down. We had their back, and they had ours.”
The Rebels (8-2) drove 61 yards in seven plays to the Falcons 22. But a fourth-and-7 pass sailed high with 1:30 remaining, allowing Florence to all but run out the clock before punting and corralling the return man as time expired.
After Doss’ long run tied it at 14, Vestavia Hills responded with a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive capped by Joseph James’ 12-yard touchdown run for a 21-14 lead.
Doss added a 4-yard scoring run at the end of a 12-play, 80-yard drive to tie it again, and Florence caught a break when a fumbled long snap on a Rebels punt attempt gave the Falcons possession at the Vestavia Hills 13-yard line with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Four plays later, Doss reached the end zone again on a 4-yard run for the final margin.
“We had too many mistakes,” Rebels coach Buddy Anderson said. “We had a blown assignment on that touchdown to start the second half and then the mishandled long snap. That doesn’t happen often but it did. They have a good football team and you can’t do stuff like that.”
Florence’s defense allowed touchdowns on two of Vestavia’s first four drives to fall into a 14-0 hole, but held the Rebels to three-and-out on two of their final three possessions.
Stuart Jacobs led the Rebels, accounting for 97 of their 263 yards rushing on 17 carries, including a 17-yard touchdown run.
Jordan Johnson added 92 yards rushing on 17 carries with a 5-yard touchdown run, but he had one carry in the fourth quarter after being hobbled late in the third.
Florence hosts Huntsville (6-4) in the opening round of the playoffs next week, while Hueytown (6-4) travels to Vestavia Hills.
If they both win, the Falcons and Rebels could meet again in a second-round rematch at Vestavia.
“If things go our way and things go their way, we could see each other again in two weeks, and that’s going to be a toughie,” DuBose said. “But right now, we’re focused on Huntsville. They’ve got size and they’re a good team. We’ll have to start strong and not wait for the second half to make something happen.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.