McCALLA — When he became Muscle Shoals’ head coach, Scott Basden enacted a plan to take a dormant football program to a state championship within five years.
On Friday night, a big, fast McAdory team, combined with several mistakes, prevented the Trojans from a shot at realizing that goal, handing Muscle Shoals a 10-3 loss in the AHSAA Class 5A semifinals.
The host Yellow Jackets loaded the box all game and buckled down defensively when it mattered most, allowing only a field goal while the Trojans reached the red zone on four of their first five drives.
Muscle Shoals then failed to cross midfield on its final two possessions while facing a 7-point deficit in the final 5 minutes, 12 seconds of play.
McAdory (14-0) advances to face Spanish Fort in the state championship game. Muscle Shoals ends the season with a school-best 13-1 record.
“We had some opportunities there in the red zone and just didn’t punch it in,” said Basden, who's in his fifth year at Muscle Shoals. “We had some turnovers and uncharacteristic fouls. Anytime you get down inside the 15-yard line, you have to punch it in, especially in a big game like this.
“This one game doesn’t do justice to our kids. I’m real proud of them. I’m proud to be their coach.”
Muscle Shoals had four turnovers and was flagged 10 times for 102 yards in penalties.
Despite being outgained 268-116 in yards of offense, McAdory put together back-to-back scoring possessions in the late-third and early-fourth quarters.
The first score — a 24-yard field goal — was set up by an interception returned 45 yards to the Muscle Shoals 5.
The second came on a 56-yard, six-play touchdown drive aided by a pair of costly penalties on Muscle Shoals’ standout defensive lineman Dee Liner.
The drive was only one longer than 25 yards for McAdory.
The Trojans’ only score came on a 28-yard field goal by Blake Logan that tied it at 3 with 8:05 to play.
That capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive, during which Muscle Shoals got as close as first-and-goal at the 9-yard line before being backed up by a false-start penalty and back-to-back negative running plays.
On its ensuing drive, McAdory hit a 22-yard pass on the first play and benefitted from a personal foul on Liner on the second to move down to the Muscle Shoals 16.
The Trojans then stopped the Yellow Jackets short of the marker on third-and-12, but a roughing the passer call on Liner moved the chains for a first-and-goal at the 6.
Thaddaus Houser ran into the end zone on the next play for the go-ahead score with 5:12 to play.
Muscle Shoals reached the red zone on three of its four first-half drives.
All three ended at the McAdory 16-yard line -- the first with a turnover on downs, the second on a wide-left 33-yard field-goal attempt and the third on a failed fake field-goal attempt.
“That’s all heart,” McAdory defensive back Damien Whitfield said of the red zone stops. “Our whole defense has heart. We’ve been doing it all year.”
McAdory got three of its four takeaways in the second half.
Whitfield nabbed his sixth interception of the season at midfield and returned it to the Muscle Shoals 5 to set up the field goal and a 3-0 Yellow Jackets lead with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Trojans’ final two drives also ended in turnovers.
McAdory forced and recovered a Jamarcus Nance fumble at the Muscle Shoals 49 with 1:45 to play.
The Trojans forced a three-and-out but let a punt bounce and roll down to their own 3-yard line with 1:08 remaining.
Jordan Wells then iced the win with an interception at the Muscle Shoals 35.
Muscle Shoals totaled 241 yards rushing while holding McAdory to 16 on 22 attempts.
Tyler Jackson netted a game-high 102 yards rushing on 18 carries, while Nance added 92 yards on 21 attempts. Neither running back appeared full-speed late in the game, each limping during the fourth quarter.
The loss marked the second straight year the Trojans failed to score a touchdown while being eliminated in the playoffs. They lost 19-0 last year at Briarwood Cristian in the quarterfinals.
Muscle Shoals has totaled 10 points in its four playoff losses under Basden.
“Obviously, we wanted to win a state championship, but we’re not a laughing stock anymore,” said Badsen, who will lose 25 current seniors from this year’s roster. “Five years ago, everybody was using us for homecoming. Now we’ve got a good program and things to look forward to in the future. We’ve still got a lot of good football players coming back. We’ll get to work and try again next year.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com. Follow @bappster on Twitter.