Leake Academy’s Gunner Pickens returns a kick against Simpson Academy on Friday night.

Photo by 
Jacob Robertson
Leake Academy’s Gunner Pickens returns a kick against Simpson Academy on Friday night. Photo by Jacob Robertson
It’s hard to beat a good team once, but twice is almost impossible.

Leake Academy completed that task this week as they beat Simpson Academy 33-24 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, a week after beating the Cougars 19-0 in the regular season.

With the win, the Rebels improve to 7-4 on the season and have won seven in a row. The Rebels will now travel to Heritage Academy in Columbus to take on the 11-0 Patriots.

On Friday night against Simpson, a team the Rebels hadn’t beaten in more than a decade before this year, it was a tough sledding for the in the first half for the Rebels.

“We knew it was going to be tough when you play somebody twice,” Leake coach Brian Pickens said. “We knew that they were going to come ready to play and they did. They drove down and scored on their first drive. We were close to scoring twice in the first half and shot ourselves in the foot. So we came in at halftime and still felt very confident and upbeat about the game.”

After forcing a Leake Academy punt to start the game, Simpson took the ball on its first possession and marched the length of the field. The Cougars went 79 yards in 17 plays, consuming more than six minutes of clock as the scored on a one-yard run by Caleb Garner with 2:18 left in the first quarter. The try for two was good and Simpson led 8-0. 

Leake Academy only had one scoring opportunity in the first half as they got as deep as the Simpson one midway through the second quarter. But a personal foul backed the Rebels up and the drive eventually stalled as the Cougars led 8-0 at the half.

Simpson got the ball to start the second half but was forced to punt. That’s when the tide started to turn for the Rebels when the Cougars gave Leake Academy the ball at their own 12 after the punter inadvertently took a knee on a low snap.

The Rebels needed just two plays to find the end zone as Wyatt Estep scored on a 10-yard run with 9:23 left in the third. The try for two failed and Simpson led 8-6.

The Rebels forced a three and out and got the ball at the Simpson 49. The Rebels then went 49 yards in five plays. The big play on the drive was a 34-yard pass from Rhett Atkinson to Riley Myers. Estep fished off the drive with a 3-yard run with 6:01 left in the third. The try for two failed again and Leake held its first lead at 12-8.

The Leake defense then forced another punt and the Rebels went 37 yards in six plays as Estep scored his third touchdown of the game on a one-yard run with 24 seconds left in the third. Cole Arthur booted the PAT and Leake led 19-8.

Simpson answered to make it interesting as the Cougars went 68 yards in 14 plays as they scored on a one-yard run with 7:49 left in the game. The try for two was good and Leake Academy held a 19-16 lead.

The Rebels answered with another touchdown drive after recovering an onside attempt. This time, Leake Academy went 49 yards in six plays as Canon Parks got loose on a 19-yard scamper with 4:09 left in the game. Arthur’s PAT gave Leake a 26-16 lead.

Leake Academy got the ball right back as Myers recovered the ensuing kick at the Simpson 30. After a penalty, Parks hit a 35-yard run and capped off the drive with a one-yard run with 2:41 left in the game. Arthur’s PAT was good and Leake led 33-16.

Simpson added a late score with 10 seconds left in the game for the final margin.

Leake had 242 yards of offense with 92 passing and 150 rushing. Atkinson was 4-of-14 passing for 92 yards. Thomas Cheatham had two catches for 46 yards and Myers had a 34-yard catch. Parks led the rushing attack with 73 yards on 11 carries while Estep had 41 yards on 12 carries. Atkinson had 24 yard on seven carries.

“In the playoffs, we put up 33 points in one half against a good football team. That was really impressive,” Pickens said. “Our line did a great job. We did some things to loosen them up and we took advantage of that. Then the backs had some great runs out of that.”

The Leake defense held Simpson to 211 yards of offense, 73 of that on the last drive against the Leake subs. Colby Moore had six solo tackles and eight assists while Estep had four solo tackles and 11 assists. Jarrett Watkins had two solo tackles and 14 assists while Ben Harrison had three solos and seven assists. Garrett Martin had three solos and six assists while Joseph Scott had two solos and six assists.


This week’s game

The Rebels will hit the road for the second-round of the playoffs as they travel to Columbus to take on top-ranked Heritage. The Patriots are 11-0 on the season. Their closest game was in week two in a 24-15 win over Jackson Prep.

“We have been in the same district with them in the past and this is the first year we haven’t been,” Pickens said. "Last year, we played them twice. Our kids are familiar with them. Our kids are excited about the opportunity to keep on going.”

Heritage is outscoring opponents 409-94 and averaging 343 yards of offense per game. Senior quarterback Carter Putt has thrown for 1,884 yards and 24 touchdowns while running back K.J. Smith has 1,118 yards rushing on 113 carries. Senior Jared Long leads team with 712 yards receiving on 39 catches.

Last year, Heritage beat Leake 41-20 in the regular season and 43-13 in the playoffs.