By Brandon Speck
NEW ALBANY – This is one special New Albany football team, because without special teams play, the Bulldogs’ 4-3 record could easily be 1-6.
“We could probably be 0-7,” New Albany coach Ron Price said, then laughed. “We are a true believer in special teams and it has been a big factor in us being successful on Friday night.”
Along with a defense that has allowed less than 10 points per game in four wins, special teams have had the biggest bark.
Special teams play, on a play that went wrong, gave New Albany a win over Amory. Eathen Rainey lined up to kick a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal. Instead, the kick was blocked by Amory’s Fred Garth. But New Albany’s Chris Brown picked it up and weaved his way some 40 yards to the end zone for a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
“It was a very heads-up play on his part,” Price said. “It’s just a group of kids out there giving us great effort from start to finish.”
New Albany practices the art every day, heightened after a blocked extra point resulted in a loss against Itawamba AHS last season. New Albany later won the division with a field goal against Lafayette.
Rainey has made 5-of-8 field goals, a long of 42. He had booted the game-winner as time expired against Pontotoc the week before Amory, from 34 yards away.
“A lot of folks say it. We truly believe it. There are three parts to the game, offense, defense and special teams,” Price said. “We preach to our kids every single day how important (special teams) are.”
That’s not all. Two weeks after the Amory game, Rainey again kicked a game-winning field goal from 36 yards in overtime for a 24-21 win against North Pontotoc. Earlier in that game, New Albany’s Larenz Jones caught a ricocheted blocked field goal attempt from the 3 that Cedric Buford got a hand on. Jones broke a school record with a 73-yard field goal return for a touchdown that cut a two-touchdown lead in half.
The Bulldogs opened Division 2-4A play with a win at Senatobia last week – Brown blocked a punt – and hosts Byhalia Friday. They’ve now won 15 of their last 16 division games. Special teams have played a huge part.
“It’s amazing to see their confidence grow from week to week in that area,” Price said. “It’s just kind of like, who’s going to do it next or who’s going to make the next big play.”