With its season on the line, the North Sand Mountain football team put the ball in its leader’s hands.
Lake Bell went left, then bounced it back to the right before cutting it up and diving just past the sticks for a first down.
Two plays later, Fernando Luna scored the go-ahead touchdown, and NSM’s defense took it from there, sandwiching two key stops around another Luna touchdown run.
The game ended with the football again in Bell’s hands, this time for a victory formation kneel down to run on the clock on another memorable NSM victory.
The No. 6-ranked Bison rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat visiting Addison 32-24 in a Class 2A second-round playoff game Friday night at Lloyd Dobbins Field in Higdon.
The win sends NSM (11-1) into the state quarterfinals for the second time in school history and for the straight season.
“Huge for the program,” said NSM head coach Keith Kirby. “Tickled for the boys, really happy for them. This time of year is what you put all that work in in the offseason for. Glad to still be playing.”
NSM (11-1) will travel to play No. 4 Spring Garden (11-1), a 27-2 second-round winner over No. 5 Red Bay, in a Class 2A quarterfinal matchup next Friday.
The win over Addison was NSM’s 15th straight home victory. If the Bison defeat Spring Garden in quarterfinals, they would host either top-ranked Mars Hill Bible or Aliceville in the state semifinals on Nov. 27.
“We’d love to get to be back here one more time,” Kirby said.
NSM ended Addison’s for the second straight postseason. The Bison defeated Addison 20-13 in a first-round matchup a year ago.
The rematch saw NSM jump on top 6-0 on Bell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 9:22 left in the first quarter. Bell’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Derek Bearden put the Bison in front 12-0 with 7:01 left in the first half, but Addison pulled within 12-10 at halftime thanks to Eli Howse’s 32-yard field goal and Christian Roberts’ 5-yard touchdown run and Howse’s PAT with 11 seconds left in the second quarter.
Jorge Luna’s recovery of an Addison fumble led to Bell’s 24-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jacob Kirby early in the third quarter. Bell ran for the two-point conversion to give the Bison a 20-10 lead.
Addison (7-5) responded with a Nelson Martin’s 1-yard touchdown run three minutes later to pull the Bulldogs within the Bulldogs 20-17 before they took a 24-20 lead with 9:53 left in the game on Martin’s 2-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
But NSM countered in a big way. Facing third-and-five on the ensuing possession, Bearden took a jet sweep 47 yards, breaking numerous tackles before Addison defenders finally got him out of bounds at the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line. Bell then got 6 yards on first down and threw an incomplete pass on second down before a delay of game penalty pushed the Bison into third-and-9 from the Addison 16. Bell found Jacob Kirby for 7 yards on third down before running for 3 yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive. Mason Smith then picked up 5 yards to the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line before Fernando Luna scored to give NSM a 26-24 lead with 5:37 remaining.
Addison then turned the ball over on downs at the NSM 25, and Fernando Luna raced 25 yards for the score on the next play. Addison’s Nelson Hernandez blocked the PAT to keep it a one-score game with 3:47 remaining.
The Bulldogs drove to the NSM 46-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, but Roberts’ pass skipped off the hands of Xavier Barley was intercepted by a diving Bell at the NSM 24-yard line.
“We made just enough (defensive) stops,” Keith Kirby said. “Came up big at the end.”
The Bison, needing one to move the chains one more time to be able to run out the clock, got a 12-yard run from Bell on third-and-10 for the game-sealing first down.
“Lake Bell, you can’t beat him,” Keith Kirby said. “He kept making play after play.”
Bell ran 20 times for 116 yards while completing 9 of 19 passes for 127 yards. Bearden caught five passes for 60 yards and ran four times for 92 yards while Jacob Kirby had four catches for 67 yards.
“It was a good (game),” Keith Kirby said. “Hats off to our boys. They found a way. That’s all that really matter’s this time of year.”