FLORENCE — On a week when most teams opted to play on Thursday due to Friday’s expected rain, Florence decided to tough it out 

It proved to be the right decision.

The Falcons turned in a gritty performance to defeat Sparkman 26-9 and assured themselves a home playoff game for the first time since 2014.

Florence (6-4, 5-2) will host Mountain Brook in the first round of the AHSAA playoffs. Sparkman (7-2, 5-2) will travel to Hoover.

“This is a huge win for us,” Florence head coach Will Hester said. “Getting a win against a good Sparkman team and being able to host a playoff game for the first time since 2014 is really exciting for our guys. There were some scheduling things that prevented us from moving our game to Thursday, but I think it worked out really well for us.”

The wet conditions had an impact early in the game. BJ Harris recovered a fumble on Sparkman’s first play from scrimmage to give the Falcons the ball at the Senators’ 31.

Eight plays later, Lajuan Jones punched it in from two yards out to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.

After trading punts, the Senators put together a 13-play, 76-yard drive that ended when Nick Sawyer found Cameron Foley in the end zone for a 23-yard score. The Falcons blocked the extra-point attempt to keep a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter.

Miles Tillman kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Senators a 9-7 lead.

Because of the poor playing conditions, Hester elected to kickoff to start both halves. After getting the fumble on the game's opening kickoff, the strategy worked again to open the second half. 

The Senators fumbled deep in their own territory again. Malakhi Russell recovered the fumble that time to give the Falcons field position at Sparkman’s 21.

A couple of plays later, Dee Beckwith scored on a 12-yard quarterback keeper to give the Falcons a 13-9 lead.

Sparkman missed a 28-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter. Florence then went 80 yards in nine plays, converting a fake punt along the way, and scored on a 25-yard Beckwith run to take a 20-9 lead with 7:34 to play.

Florence held on downs twice the rest of the way, and Jones scored a game-clinching 20-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 26-9 lead with 1:58 to play.

Beckwith finished with 101 yards on 11 carries.

“I thought we practiced hard all week, and we came out here and executed,” Florence defensive lineman Quintarious Abernathy said of his team’s performance.

Asked about how the rain impacted his team, the senior responded, “it didn’t impact us at all. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but once we got used to it, it was fun.”

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