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Brian Tannehill / For Tallapoosa Publishers Holtville RB Drew Pickett (8) breaks free around the right side of the line against ECHS Friday night.

After the first two weeks of the season, Holtville showed no signs of missing sophomore Drew Pickett in the backfield. His absence was overshadowed by the Bulldogs’ success through other options on offense, leading to two victories.

However, Pickett was cleared to return to practice last week and he made sure his presence and impact was felt in Friday’s rivalry game against Elmore County. Pickett racked up 286 yards on 26 carries and provided three touchdowns, leading Holtville to a 35-21 comeback victory against the Panthers and earning Elmore County Player of the Week honors.

“There’s no doubt,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “He deserves it. The dude went off. I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Pickett was forced to miss the first two games due to a quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure. He was not allowed to go to school which forced him to miss all practices and games during a two-week period.

But that did not stop Pickett from putting in work at home.

“It was hard,” Pickett said. “The hardest part was staying in shape the two weeks I was out. I couldn’t go to practice but I did a lot of running.”

Franklin said that may have been the most notable part of Pickett’s performance Friday. Even though he was not surprised to see the young running back play well, Franklin admitted he was impressed.

“He is an explosive player and we know that,” Franklin said. “But that was tremendous for him to come back and have that kind of game in his first game back. He did a good job. Even though he was quarantined, to be in the condition to tote it 26 times is pretty good.”

Leading up to the game, it was still unclear how many times Pickett would be called on. But with Shawn Bracket, the fill-in starter for the first two weeks, facing some minor bumps and bruises, the Bulldogs needed Pickett to be the go-to guy right away.

“I had a feeling it was going to come down to it,” Pickett said. “I knew I was going to carry the ball for the most part. I didn’t think I was going to have that good of a game but it feels good.”

Pickett had several big carries throughout the night but it is easy to pick out the one that was the most important for him and the Bulldogs.

On the first snap of the fourth quarter, Pickett found a hole at the line of scrimmage and ran 85 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

“I knew I was going to have to make some plays,” Pickett said. “That one was all thanks to my O-line. I just followed my blocks and ran … I felt like that really got the team into a rhythm.”

That play sparked a dominant fourth quarter for Holtville as the Bulldogs outscored Elmore County 21-0 in the final frame. Pickett rushed for 163 yards on 10 carries in the quarter and was key in setting up two more scoring drives, both finished off by touchdown runs from Bracket.

“Hats off to our offensive line because those guys put it on their back,” Franklin said. “They came to us and told us at halftime to put it on them because they wanted to go win a ballgame. And that’s what they did.”

Holtville had high expectations for Pickett entering the season and those will still be in place after Friday’s performance. Now, Pickett knows other teams will be focused in on slowing him down but he’s ready for the challenge.

“They have to be ready for it,” Pickett said. “I’m just going to do what I have always been doing.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.