The 66th annual Shrine Game may not have been the prettiest contest, but it certainly was one of the most memorable.
The host Pepperell Dragons held a narrow 21-16 lead with under a minute to go with their crosstown and Region 7-AA rival Coosa driving down the field.
The Eagles threw a long pass but Pepperell senior safety Evan Ashley came flying into the play to intercept the ball and secure the Dragons’ first win of the season.
“Coosa’s a good football team and they had every chance there at the end,” said Pepp-erell coach Jeff Shiflett, “but we made some good plays here at times and made them in some crucial situations.
“I’m happy about that and that’s the couple of plays we haven’t been making.”
The game-winning interception was Ashley’s second pick of the game, and he also had a good night on the offensive side of the ball.
Ashley connected with Dylan Brooks on a 24-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter, and Ashley finished the night with 102 yards through the air.
“(Ashley) breaks on the ball extremely well in the secondary and he does a great job of that,” said Shiflett. “He made two big interceptions tonight and he made some good plays on offense.”
The Dragons also got a big performance from tailback Devyn Collins, who carried the ball 29 times and racked up 113 yards and scored a touchdown.
Qaiderus Morgan had six carries for 43 yards and also scored a rushing touchdown for the Dragons.
The night was not only special for Pepperell (1-3, 1-0) because they won their first game of the season and their Region 7-AA opener, but also because it was the Shrine Game.
“Those seniors had the chance the other day to see what the Shriners do, and I had some young kids ask the other about what (the Shriners) do,” said Shiflett. “Hopefully a game like this will bring some attention to the cause and get some people out there to help (the Shriners).”
While the Dragons got to celebrate their first win of the season in front of the home fans in Lindale, the Coosa Eagles (2-2, 0-1) team had to deal with a tough loss to start region play.
“We’re a young football team that made way to many mistakes to win the game,” said Coosa coach Todd Wheeler. “That’s a growing experience for us.”
The Eagles’ defense held Pepperell to 21 points, and also scored a defensive touchdown when senior Isaac Bradley picked up a fumble and ran it back 48 yards to give Coosa its first score of the night.
Coosa’s other touchdown came early in the fourth quarter when Nick Sprayberry scored on a six-yard run to cut the Pepperell lead to 21-16.
Despite turning the ball over three times, the Eagles still found themselves with a chance to win the game on their final drive of the game.
“We felt like we had (Pepperell) on their heels, and we fought for 48 minutes,” said Wheeler. “In the long run, it’s going to help us … We grew up a lot tonight because we made some big mistakes.
“When you make mistakes you can do two things: You can either feel sorry about it or you can pull your britches up and play harder,” added Wheeler, “and that’s what we did. That’s a big thing we can take away from this.”