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ARAB – Lee Ozmint took a minute to soak in the moment as he stood on the field at the Arab City Schools Sports Complex, watching his Arab High team celebrate a 42-20 win over Moody in the Class 5A second round on Friday night.

“This team is really, really special, and it’s because they’ve been in this program, and they’re bought into this program,” said Ozmint, who is in his fourth season at the school. “When you get a team that’s bought into this program and hold each other accountable, that’s when magic happens. And it’s happening.”

Arab had never won a second-round playoff game before Friday night. It was, in fact, only the second time that the Knights have reached the second round and the third time they’ve won a playoff game. And the recipe for this playoff win began long before kickoff.

“Sometimes, you worry about wearing a team down and grinding them down to nothing,” said Ozmint, whose team plays defending state finalist Pleasant Grove in the third round. “Not this team. They work, and they get mad when they don’t work. They think they’re wasting a day. There were a few weeks when I tried to save them because I knew we could make a run, and they literally got mad at me because we weren’t lifting hard enough, and we weren’t hitting hard enough.”

The hard work is certainly paying off, as the Knights won an 11th game for the first time in school history.

Keys to the latest victory included Drake Franklin running for 186 yards and five touchdowns on 34 bruising carries and quarterback Aidan Cox making big plays and big decisions in clutch moments. It also included a defense that kept battling despite big nights from Moody quarterback Cole McCarty and receiver Davion Dozier.

In fact, it was McCarty and Dozier hooking up on a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter that gave Moody a 7-0 lead. The Knights quickly answered, scoring on a 13-yard run by Franklin. Moody scored again on a pass from McCarty to Dozier, this one covering 60 yards. And Arab answered again with a 12-yard run by Franklin on a 61-yard drive that began with a 48-yard run by Hayden O’Reilly.

Arab took a 21-14 lead on a 2-yard run by Franklin with 33.5 seconds left in the first. What followed was a critical sequence. McCarty, who finished with 326 yards passing,  threw the ball deep on the second play after the kickoff, and Dozier climbed above a pair of defenders to give Moody a 1st-and-goal at the 9-yard line after the 47-yard gain. Four consecutive incompletions followed, and Arab clung to the lead.

Moody came out in the second half and marched 78 yards to score, with McCarty tumbling over the goal line on an 11-yard scoring play. The extra point kick failed, and Arab led, 21-20.

That was the last score of the game for Moody. Part of the reason was that Arab finally found a way to limit Dozier’s production. In the first half, the 6-foot-4 senior, who is committed to Arkansas, had eight catches for 192 yards. He had a 20-yard reception on the opening drive, but his next catch didn’t come till the last Moody possession of the night.

“We had to play him underneath and over the top,” Ozmint said. “We couldn’t just play him underneath. We thought we could, but we couldn’t. We watched some film and thought we could get underneath him. Sometimes he wouldn’t get behind people, but tonight, man, he had a great game.”

Just as the Knights did in the first half, they were able to counter the Moody touchdown with one of their own. This one, however, took some help from Moody. The Blue Devils forced a punt that was muffed by the returner, and the Knights recovered at the Moody 7-yard line. Three plays later, Brody McCain worked in front of the defensive back and gathered in a 4-yard scoring toss from Cox. Franklin closed out the scoring on touchdown runs of 25 and 33 yards.

“We just didn’t have enough tonight,” said first-year Moody head coach Jake Ganus. “Man, they’re a great football team, very physical. We knew that coming in. I’m proud of the fight, proud of the way our kids played. We had to fight some adversity today, last week, during the bye week, losing (linebacker Zane Smith). All throughout the year, I feel like we kept getting punched and kept getting back up.”

Ganus then summed up the disappointment of how one of the best turnarounds in AHSAA ended in disappointment.

“I think there’s a new standard for Moody football,” Ganus said. “I think if anyone would have said, ‘Hey, 10-2.’ Most people, including my players, not me, would have said, ‘OK, we’ll take that.’ As you can see, it’s not OK.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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