WINDER -- Running back John Ansley spent all Friday night setting up others' touchdowns before scoring the crowning one in Apalachee's 37-14 win over Salem that completed the Wildcats' first unbeaten regular season.
Coming in with a team-leading 1,077 yards, the senior's long runs of 26, 45 and 24 yards prefaced a field goal and two touchdowns. But it was his acrobatic 15-yard reception that most visibly clinched the Wildcats' victory over the Seminoles. Ansley out-tipped Salem's Jherrial Smith and Jarrett Brown on a Mike Norman pass in the back corner of the end zone to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game, 37-7, with 11:13 remaining.
Ansley finished with a team-high 100 rushing yards, and fellow running back Jon Lee had 90 yards and two touchdowns for the Region 8-AAAA champion Wildcats.
"They run the ball well and play good defense, too" Seminoles coach Chad Estes said. "That's a recipe for winning football."
The Wildcats (10-0, 10-0), in for the postseason for a fourth straight time, pounced on Salem (6-4, 6-4) at the start and never let up. Beginning with Quintavis Cofield's fumble recovery on Salem's third play of the game, the Wildcats showed the playoff intensity coach Shane Davis has sought all season.
"I'd like to think we bring that same intensity every night," Davis said. "You need that playoff style atmosphere every night."
Ansley got the Wildcats in gear right away. His 26-yard run on Apalachee's first snap set up Guy Hunt's 39-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 8:37 left in the first quarter. Similarly, Ansley's 45-yarder to Salem's 17-yard line preceded the first of Christian Hoard's two first-half touchdowns, a 2-yard run for a 10-0 lead on the second play of the second period.
The Seminoles came as close as they would, within 10-7, on the first of quarterback JoJo Smith's rushing TDs 5:55 before halftime.
But Hoard, who finished with 46 yards, put the Wildcats ahead 17-7 with a 6-yard run six seconds before intermission.
Lee capped consecutive drives in the third quarter with 35 and 32-yard runs to put Apalachee up 30-7 and help Barrow County's first-ever region champions within two wins of their best-ever second-round playoff showing in 2007.
Already assured the region championship before facing Salem, Davis didn't want his Wildcats to ease up in their season regular season finale, prior to opening the playoffs next week against the No. 4 qualifier from Region 5-AAAA.
"Yeah, it'd be a cop out to say we could fall back (and be content to finish the regular season 9-1)," Davis said. "That'd be the easy way out. We want to win football games."