MONTGOMERY – Sophomore place-kicker Juan Castro kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to lift Cleveland to a 23-20 Class 2A first-round playoff victory over Reeltown and the Panthers advanced to the second round of the 50th AHSAA state football playoffs.
The heroes were many as Coach Gardner Gilliland’s team improved to 11-0 and captured the AHSAA Prep Spotlight for the playoffs’ first round.
Castro booted three field goals--20, 24 and his game-winning 19-yarder, but it wasn’t without some drama. He missed on his first try with 1.8 seconds left but Reeltown was penalized for roughing the snapper giving the sophomore kicker another try.
Talented senior quarterback Peyton Gilliland, the son of the head coach and named after NFL great Peyton Manning, held in check for most of the night by the Reeltown defense but came to life late as the Panthers rallied from a 20-6 third-quarter deficit by scoring the final 17 points of the game.
Gilliland completed 7-of-14 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown and rushed for 72 yards on 19 tries and scored Cleveland’s other TD on a 27-yard run with less than two minutes to play that tied the game. He then picked off a Reeltown pass and returned it 45 yards to the Rebels’ 5-yard line with 54 seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal. He also had 12 tackles on defense to lead the Panthers.
Tristan Rittenhouse also had four receptions for 72 yards, six tackles and two interceptions on defense for the Panthers. Coach Jackie O’Neal got a big game from senior running back Martez McCullough, who had 161 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 24 carries in the setback.
Cleveland returns home in round two to host Sulligent, a 63-27 winner over Cold Springs last week.
Other top performances reported in round one included:
REED BLANKENSHIP, WEST LIMESTONE: Totaled 181 yards rushing and accounted for four touchdowns in a 42-36 Class 4A road playoff victory over Saks. He scored two rushing touchdowns, added a 15-yard TD reception and passed for a 10-yard score. He also had an outstanding game on defense with 20 tackles, a blocked field goal and a forced fumble.
BRANDON SIMMONS, PLEASANT GROVE: Piled up 256 yards on 27 rush attempts and scored three touchdowns as the Spartans moved to round 2 of the 5A state playoffs with a 35-14 win over Madison County.
IVORY STARR, CEDAR BLUFF: The workhorse running back had 239 yards on 35 carries, including a 14-yard touchdown, in the Tigers' 47-26 Class 1A playoff victory over Ragland. Teammate Josh Decker accounted for five total touchdowns, including four rushing (1, 1, 3 and 2 yards) and a 22-yard touchdown pass.
STACY WILLIAMS, ETOWAH: Rushed for 232 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries in the Blue Devils' first-round 27-21 overtime loss to Parker in the Class 5A playoffs.
OSTIN McPHERSON, ST. PAUL’S EPISCOPAL: Rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns to lead defending state champion St. Paul’s to a 42-17 Class 5A first-round win over Sylacauga.
BRANDON RODGERS, VIGOR: Piled up 235 yards rushing on 14 carries and scored four touchdowns as the Wolves beat Central-Clay County 26-14 to advance to round two in Class 5A.
NIC ROLLO, COLD SPRINGS: Had 186 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 63-27 Class 2A playoff loss at Sulligent. His scoring runs covered 5, 5 and 24 yards. Teammate Christian Crandall also had 132 rushing yards and a touchdown.
QUINTON DOWNEY, SPRING GARDEN: Had 178 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries and ran in a 2-point conversion in the Panthers' 39-16 Class 1A victory over Talladega County Central. It was Spring Garden's first home playoff win in school history.
KOBE SMITH, WEST POINT: Ran for 174 yards, including 116 in the fourth quarter, and three touchdowns in a 41-21 Class 5A first-round loss at Alexandria. The senior finished the season with 2,222 rushing yards, a new Cullman County record. The previous Cullman County record (2,214 yards) was set by Vinemont’s Ty Jones in 2013.
ALEX McNEAL, DALEVILLE: Rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns (13, 70, 32 and 7 yards) on 13 carries in a 40-18 Class 3A playoff win over Greensboro. Quarterback Coley Locke added 130 yards rushing on just eight carries scored on runs of 9 and 19 yards in the win.
DEMARCUS WILLIAMS, JACKSON: Rushed for 113 yards on 10 carries with three TDs and passed 53 yards for a fourth score as the Aggies beat Tallassee 35-7 in the Class 5A playoffs.
LEONARD JOHNSON, HAYDEN: The junior running back had 19 carries for 124 yards and three touchdowns (5, 55, 5 yards) in the Wildcats’ 19-0 win over East Limestone. It was Hayden’s first playoff win since 1992 and the program’s first-ever playoff victory in Class 5A.
KEYSHAUN ABSTON, WASHINGTON COUNTY: Gained 187 yards rushing on 10 carries and scored three touchdowns on runs of 55, 44 and 31 yards as Washington County posted a 39-0 Class 2A win over Goshen.
TAYLOR HAYES, PIEDMONT: Ran for 140 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 34-0 Class 3A playoff victory over Lexington.
MICHAEL MATTHEWS, UMS-WRIGHT: Had 13 of his 35 carries in a game-clinching 16-play drive late in the game to lift the Bulldogs past Handley 20-8. He had the last nine carries on the drive to finish with 125 yards as UMS-Wight moved to Round 2 of the Class 4A playoffs.
TREY HARRIS, NORTH JACKSON: Ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns (2 and 55 yards) on 13 carries, and threw a 75-yard TD pass in a 28-6 Class 4A win over Haleyville.
WALKER MINOR, VESTAVIA HILLS: Had 27 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels advanced to round 2 with a 28-17 Class 7A win over Bob Jones.
JORDAN BENTLEY, GUNTERSVILLE: Pounded out 108 tough yards on 28 carries with one touchdown in the Wildcats’ Class 5A first-round 14-6 playoff win over Ramsay. Bentley, who now has 1,964 yards rushing this season and 103 career touchdowns, added seven tackles on defense.
TYREN DUPREE, CHEROKEE COUNTY: Completed 17-of-28 pass attempts for 309 yards and pair of touchdowns (10, 8 yards) and ran for 72 yards on 10 carries with a 3-yard touchdown in the Warriors' Class 4A playoff 45-26 victory at Deshler. The win was the first postseason victory for the Warriors in six years.
SHAQUILLE JOHNSON, LEE-MONTGOMERY: Was 10-of-16 passing for 274 yards, including an 87-yard TD strike to Keniaus Johnson, and the Generals beat Murphy 37-21 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. Shaquille also rushed for 54 yards with TD runs covering 2, 1 and 4 yards.
TYLER JOHNSTON, SPANISH FORT: Remained undefeated as a starting quarterback, completing 14-of-21 passes for 176 yards and three second-half touchdowns as Spanish Fort beat Pell City 24-10 in Class 6A.
ORLANDO LACEY, OPP: Was 6-of-9 passing for 192 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries as the Bobcats beat Midfield 49-20 in Class 3A first-round road win.
CHADARIUS TOWNSEND, TANNER: Was 7-of-11 passing for 132 yards and added five rushes for 164 yards to account for five touchdowns in the Rattlers’ 73-7 Class 2A first-round win over Phil Campbell. He ran for TDs covering 40, 91 and 28 yards and his TD passes were 33 and 21 yards.
PARIS CHAMBERS, McTOOLEN: Combined for 275 total yards in a 30-13 Class 7A playoff win over Enterprise. He had 138 yards passing and 137 rushing with one TD pass and a 68-yard run to set up another TD.
JACOBY McDANIEL, DOTHAN: Completed 15-of-26 passes for 228 yards with three touchdowns in a 48-21 Class 6A loss to Northridge.
ANTONIO STANTON, BESSEMER CITY: Passed for 144 yards and rushed for 98, including a 24-yard run late to seal the Tigers’ 28-24 Class 6A win over Park Crossing.
RYAN SULLIVAN, FALKVILLE: Completed 15-of-21 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more scores in s 35-34 overtime Class 2A win over Hatton.
DAIMION WRIGHT, LEE-MONTGOMERY: Had nine receptions for 154 yards in the Generals’ 37-21 Class 7A win over Murphy.
REAGAN PADGETT, GARDENDALE: Caught seven passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-14 Class 6A playoff win over Hartselle. He also had 10 tackles and an interception in the secondary and blocked a Tigers’ field goal attempt.
QUARTEZ HENDERSON, CHEROKEE COUNTY: Caught six passes for 139 yards and an 8-yard touchdown in the Warriors' 45-26 Class 4A victory at Deshler. Teammate Jacob Graves also had five catches for 102 yards and had a touchdown run.
CHARLES SHEPHERD, BLOUNT: Caught three touchdown passes as Blount came-from-behind beat Chelsea 41-28 in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
JEFF HUNTER, DECATUR HERITAGE: Snared a 36-yard TD pass with 20 seconds remaining to lift Decatur Heritage over Meek 28-28 in Class 1A. He finished with six receptions for 114 yards and three scores and added an interception on defense.
RICKY HALL, PROVIDENCE CHRISTIAN: Had 20 tackles, including four for losses, in a 17-6 Class 2A win over Thorsby. Teammate Gray McClendon added 17 tackles as the Eagles limited Thorsby to 138 total yards.
CARAVION MYERS, PIEDMONT: Posted nine tackles and had an interception in the Bulldogs’ 34-0 Class 3A playoff opening-round win over Lexington. He also threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Bayley Blanchard in the win. The Bulldogs defense held Lexington to only one pass completion, 143 yards total offense and forced four turnovers.
TUFFY CASEY, ARITON: Led the Purple Cats with 10 tackles and had three touchdown receptions on offense in a 35-26 Class 2A playoff loss to Fayetteville.
ARCHER CHARLES, GUNTERSVILLE: Returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown as unbeaten Guntersville (11-0) beat Ramsay 14-6 in the Class 5A state playoffs.
GARRETT SANDERS, G.W. LONG: Scored four first-half touchdowns, one coming on an interception return, to lead the Rebels to a 55-0 Class 2A first-round win over Francis Marion. He scored on runs of 50 and 3 yards and also had a 50-yard TD reception to finish with 139 total yards on offense.
COBY NEENAN, NORTHVIEW: Kicked 3-of-3 field goals, hitting from 48, 22 and 22 yards, as the Cougars fell to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 36-15 in the Class 6A playoffs.
CAMERON MOORE, WEST POINT: Returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, his third kickoff return for a TD in the last three weeks, in a Class 5A 41-21 setback versus Alexandria.
JORDAN GRADDY, MOBILE CHRISTIAN: Returned the opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown and Mobile Christian beat Luverne 43-19 in the 2A playoffs. He finished with 157 yards on 15 carries and added a 15-yard TD run.
IMMANUEL WILDER, JAMES CLEMENS: Returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown and had a 62-yard kickoff return to set up another score in a 33-0 Class 7A win over Hewitt-Trussville. Alexandria.
DAVION FIFE, CEDAR BLUFF: Dashed 85 yards on the game-opening kickoff, putting Cedar Bluff in front 7-0 en route to the Tigers' 47-26 Class 1A playoff victory over Ragland.