BAKER — Dreams of a perfect season came crashing down for the Baker football team Friday night.
Cottondale team scored 22 fourth quarter points to take a come-from-behind 28-23 win over the Gators (10-1) in the Region 1-1A football semifinals at Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium.
Cottondale (7-4) scored touchdowns of 17, 80 and 65 yards in the fourth quarter to erase a 10-point deficit and take the win.
Baker Coach Matt Brunson was quick to give credit to the Hornets.
"We faced a very talented and athletic football team as we knew they were," he said. "They presented us with some problems and they made a few big plays there toward the end and we didn't.
"Overall we've had a great year and I'm proud of these kids. It was unbelievable getting back the district championship and winning 10 (games) and I can't say enough about these kids."
Norris Calhoun got things started with the 17-yard run that cut the Gator lead to 16-12 with 10:02 left in the game.
Less than three minutes later Calhoun was on the receiving end of an 80-yard swing pass from Justin Klotz. The touchdown came with 7:33 left in the fourth quarter and gave the Hornets their first lead of the night.
Calhoun showed his versatility when he hit DeMichael Faulk with a little jump pass for the 2-point conversion.
Things looked bleak for the Gators after a three-and-out that gave the Hornets the ball at their own 22 with 6:30 left in the game.
Momentum swung back in Baker's favor when D.J. Thomas picked off a Klotz pass and returned it to the Hornet 6-yard line.
Richard Stroheker carried the ball for five yards. On the next play Thomas scored his 29 and final touchdown of his senior season.
Malcolm Griffith's extra point put the Gators up 23-20 with 4:34 left in the game.
The lead lasted 20 seconds as JaWann Sherrod scored on a 65-yard run. Shaundre Macroy took the 2-point conversion in to give the Hornets their final margin of victory.
The high octane Gator offense that averaged better than 40 points a game during the regular season couldn't do much against a big and fast Hornet defense.
Baker got off to an early 3-0 lead when Griffith hit the first of three field goals from 33 yards out with 7:49 left in the first quarter.
A 31-yard field goal by Griffith with 10:32 left in the half pushed the Gator lead to 6-0.
The Hornets tied the game on a 55-yard touchdown run by JaVotai Hall with 8:54 left in the second period.
Thomas scored his first touchdown of the game with 19 seconds left in the half.
Griffith's third field goal of the night came with 2:17 left in the third quarter and put the Gators up 16-6, but the Hornets were about to attack in a vicious swarm of fourth-quarter points.
Thomas, who averaged 200 yards a game during the regular season, was held to 99 yards on 30 carries. Stroheker added 54 yards on 12 carries and caught one pass for 45 yard.
Baker quarterback Jon Beck struggled against the speedy Hornet secondary as he completed just 4-of-13 passes for 85 yards.
The Gators managed just 235 yards in total offense while Cottondale racked up 360 yards.
Thomas admitted it was tough going against the big Hornet defense.
"It was just a battle up front and we came out on the bottom of this one," he said. "We've been on top for a while. All good things must come to an end at one time or another.
"I guess that's the way this went."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.