Reeltown's Eric Shaw (6) goes in for a tackle against Ranburne's Sean Pollard as the heavy rain falls Friday night.

For the first time this year, Reeltown coach Matt Johnson had to have a conversation with his team he hasn’t had since last season.

The Rebels suffered their first loss of the year, coming up one point short of an undefeated regular season as they lost 27-26 to Ranburne in non-region action on Friday night. But instead of letting his players’ heads drop, Johnson said he wants his team to feed off that emotion.

“I told them, ‘You’re hurt, you’re crying, you’re upset, and you need to feel like that,’” Johnson said. “Losing, it ain’t fun. It’s not supposed to be fun. I want them to hurt; I’m hurting. But I told them, ‘Don’t ever forget how you feel right now.’ If we come to work and do what we’re supposed to do and we don’t spot a team 14 points in the first quarter, then they won’t ever feel that way again.”

Starting fast has been something Johnson has preached day in and day out to his Rebels (9-1), who wrapped up the regular season Friday night. But that just wasn’t in the cards as Ranburne (8-1) spoiled what the Rebels have been trying to do all season.

It was the Bulldogs who came out with fire in their eyes, especially offensively, and they scored on their first two drives and took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.

“They knocked us off the ball,” Johnson said. “They hit us in the mouth. They got more people to the point of attack with pulling, so we weren’t reading right. They just outphysicaled us the whole first quarter with our defense. The second half, we came back and delivered the same thing to them.” 

Ranburne showed something different on defense than what the Rebels were expecting so it took a while for the offense to find its footing but once it did, it was off to the races.

Immediately after the Bulldogs scored their second touchdown, Cameron Faison broke up the right side, cut back inside to beat a Ranburne tackler and took it 70 yards to the house for the Rebels’ first touchdown.

But Ranburne answered right back on its next drive to go up by two scores again before Faison took the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for a score.

In the second half, the Rebel offense looked much more poised and the defense did its job by shutting down Ranburne’s bread and butter — the run game.

Reeltown’s Eric Shaw got much more involved in the offense and the Rebels took a late lead, 26-21, on an 18-yard catch by Shaw where he jumped up over two Bulldog defenders and grabbed it in the end zone.

“We couldn’t open up and do a lot of things we wanted to do because of the weather,” Johnson said. “When the bottom fell out, we figured what we had to do was get in our two-tight wishbone. We wanted to throw the ball a little bit more and we just couldn’t in these conditions.” 

But when the Bulldogs figured out they couldn’t run the ball in the second, they went to the passing game to eventually secure the victory. Quarterback Ben Jackson completed 5 of 5 passes on the final Ranburne drive, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Langley with under a minute to go.

“The hurtful thing is how good our secondary has played all year,” Johnson said. “They need to have a short memory and forget what just happened. With them scoring the ball by driving and throwing the ball around, that’s what hurt. We shut down their run game second half and then they threw the ball on us.” 

Reeltown nearly made an incredibly comeback as it got into enemy territory with less than 30 seconds to go, but the Rebels’ final pass fell incomplete and Ranburne walked away victorious.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.