FULTONDALE — It was a tale of two halves — one that belonged to Kris Lewis, and the other to Khyree Robinson.
Quarterback Lewis scored three touchdowns before halftime on short-yardage runs, while running back Robinson had three in the second half that included a spectacular 85-yard kickoff return, as Fultondale scored a 39-22 victory over eighth-ranked Walter Wellborn on Friday.
Robinson’s return was an ESPN SportsCenter Top-10 Plays moment, as he took the kick on his own 15, broke through a couple of half-hearted tackle attempts, and then ran into some traffic near the goal line. Robinson then put on the brakes, stutter-stepped slightly, and froze the Panther defenders in their places. He then shot through an opening and dashed into the end zone.
It was a move, and a second half, that made first-year head coach Richie Busby shake his head in wonder.
“Khyree was huge there in the second half. We ask kids all the time in big situations to make a play, but goodness gracious — did he make a play,” Busby said. “I guess the good Lord taught him that [move].”
The touchdown came right after the Panthers scored on a quick four-play drive, which itself squelched a long Fultondale march that ended when Lewis threw an interception to his opposite number, Wellborn linebacker/quarterback Landon MacChristie, on the Panther 28. Two plays later, running back Kevin Mixon took a direct snap and ran 49 yards to the 8-yard line, and Chantz Goodman scored two plays later to cut Fultondale’s lead to 25-22 with 4:08 left.
But Robinson’s runback for the score took the wind out of Wellborn’s sails. Despite taking the following kickoff back to their 40, the Panthers suffered a big setback when defensive back Dakota Gravitt committed a personal foul that resulted in his ejection, and also brought about a first-down-and-25 situation that ended with a three and out.
On the ensuing Wildcat drive, Robinson broke through three tackles on the second play and dashed 61 yards for the final touchdown.
Wellborn got off to a good, typical start, as they took the opening drive 77 yards in just three minutes. Mixon capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown plunge.
But after trading possessions, Fultondale turned the momentum om a heads-up special-teams play by Tommy Usher. As a high, short Panther punt bounced and looked as if it would be allowed to roll dead, Usher picked up the ball and found open space, returning the ball down to the Wellborn 9-yard line. That set up the first of Lewis’ three scores on a 4-yard run. The snap on the extra-point kick was fumbled.
Lewis finished off their next drive early in the second quarter with another 4-yard scoring charge up the middle, and capped the next possession with a 1-yard sneak. Lewis set up the last score with a 17-yard run on a busted play, as he scrambled after a fumbled snap on the previous play.
The Wildcats opened the second half with a drive that ended in a missed 33-yard field goal attempt by Enrique Aguilar, a call which Busby protested vociferously and at great length as he believed the ball was inside the right upright. The official under the goalpost said it went over the top of the upright, and after he had finally heard enough from Busby, flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Wellborn then took the ball on the ensuing drive all the way down to the Wildcat 15, but MacChristie threw an errant pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Jared Stewart. Two plays later, Kris Lewis hit Brandon Lewis on a 70-yard pass play, which set up Robinson to score from six yards away. That put the home team up 25-7 with 38.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the end, Fultondale simply wore down Wellborn (2-2, 2-1 Region 6) — an unusual result for a Panther team that is normally one of the best-conditioned in all of Class 2A football.
“We told them at halftime that they have not out-worked you in the weight room and they are not in better shape than you,” Busby said. “Jeff [Smith, Wellborn’s coach] is a guy who prides his guys in being in better physical shape, but I think our kids were in better shape tonight, and I think it showed.”
Robinson finished with 142 rushing yards on 15 carries. Kris Lewis ran 17 times for 57 yards, and was 5-for-9 in passing with one interception and 107 yards.
The win keeps Busby’s record unscathed, as he has won his first four games. It also means that his Wildcats will not likely remain in their favorite position of just off everyone’s radar screen; they were just below the 10th spot in last week’s ASWA Class 2A rankings, and will likely rise next week.
Fultondale (4-0, 3-0 region) steps out of Region 6 play next week to host American Christian.