By DeWayne Patterson, Jackson County Sentinel
HIGDON — Class 2A, 10th-ranked North Sand Mountain improved to 5-0 Friday night in Higdon by defeating Cedar Bluff 28-7. The only other time NSM started 5-0, head coach Keith Kirby was a junior.
Led by a stout defense and senior quarterback Lake Bell, the Bison got the job done Friday night.
Kirby’s offense sputtered through the first quarter and even first half.
NSM’s first three possessions resulted in two three and outs and a fumble. The defense, though, kept Cedar Bluff (1-4) in punt mode as well.
The scoring started late in the second quarter. The Bison needed five plays to cover 64 yards. Bell connected with Jakob Kirby for a 29-yard completion, and then hit Mason Smith for a 24-yard touchdown. Bell’s PAT gave NSM a 7-0 lead with 4:11 in the quarter.
Cedar Bluff answered right back, marching 64 yards, too. Quarterback Jacob Burleson connected with Alexander Leek on a 21-yard touchdown. James Clifton kicked the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 39.9 seconds left in the half.
A short kickoff gave NSM a shot at taking a halftime lead, and the Bison cashed in the opportunity. Bell hit Derek Bearden for 31 yards, ran for eight yards and then found Blake Hill for a 17-yard touchdown with 7.2 seconds left. Bell kicked it to 14-7 at halftime.
NSM started strong in the third quarter as Bearden returned the kickoff 41 yards to the Cedar Bluff 38. Three plays later, Bell scored on a 23-yard touchdown run. Following a Cedar Bluff penalty, Fernando Luna scored on a two-point conversion, giving his team a 21-7 lead with 10:44 left in the third quarter.
The Bison threatened again in the quarter, driving from their own five-yard line to the Cedar Bluff two-yard line. But on fourth and goal, Bell came up a yard short.
NSM got its long touchdown in the fourth quarter after Bearden intercepted a pass at his own one-yard line.
The Bison needed six plays to cover 99 yards. Luna had runs of 31 and 24 in the drive before Bell connected with Kirby for a 16-yard touchdown. The PAT failed, but NSM led 28-7 with 3:17 left in the game.
Cedar Bluff drove to the NSM three-yard line to end the game.
Bell finished 8-of-14 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to lead NSM. Luna had 125 yards on 16 carries, while Kirby caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown and Hill added three catches and a score for 48 yards.
NSM finished the game with 411 total yards (256 rushing yards) on 55 plays. The Bison was penalized 10 times for 128 yards.
For Cedar Bluff, Anbre Leek led with 60 yards on eight carries, while Preston Burt had 35 yards on five carries and James Clifton added 32 yards on nine carries.