Alma likes mud and now they might to play in it again next week.
"Our kids thrive on it," Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. "They were out here on Thursday in a driving rain storm, and our kids had on nothing but shorts and T-shirts. They love it. They thrive on it. They’re going to go out here and battle and toe the line no matter what it’s like. It’s nothing new to us. We’ll just do a lot of laundry tonight."
Alma swamped Mills on Friday night, 26-0, to earn a home semifinal game for the first time since 2002 and just the fourth time in school history. Alma (10-2) will host Batesville, which beat defending 5A champion Camden Fairview.
Friday, Alma’s defense bottled up Mills’ (9-3) dangerous Flexbone offense, allowing just 76 rushing yards on 34 attempts.
"We challenged them this week," Alma defensive coordinator Jason Reeves said. "Last year, they just took that fullback and kept pounding us. They responded. They were ready to go."
Through three quarters, Alma’s defense allowed just 31 yards on 31 plays.
"I’m extremely proud of those guys," Reeves said. "All year, they’ve responded. Every time we put a challenge out there, they study their scouting report, they study their film and they’re ready. They don’t back down."
Alma forced six turnovers by recovering four fumbles and intercepting two passes. The Airedales had no turnovers.
"Coach Reeves had a great scheme going into the week," Loughridge said. "We were worried about their option game. We knew with their speed that if they ever got vertical we were in trouble. We did a great job keeping everything from side to side. Our players played and made great tackles."
Alma’s offense didn’t take advantage early, but did later.
The Airedales drove into, or took over, in Mills’ territory on their first three possessions but only had Seth Linker’s 28-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the first quarter to show for it.
"We got a little disturbed there," Loughridge said. "Our offensive guys finally got into rythem and found the parts of the field they liked and were able to do the things we could do with our offense."
Alma held a 10-0 lead at the half helped by a 7-yard punt by Mills. The Airedales needed to go only 40 yards capped by Malachi White’s 12-yard dart up the middle with 4:19 left in the second quarter.
Alma bumped its lead to 16-0, following a diving interception by Keith Schultz. On the next play, Evan Burris hit Tyler Mlaker for a 38-yard touchdown pass off a flea flicker.
The Airedales added to their lead after a three-play series in which Alma dropped Mills for losses on all three plays totaling negative-19 yards. Mills punted just 24 yards, and the Airedales needed just four plays for Linker to add a 31-yard field goal with 4:52 left in the third quarter.
Alma put the finishing touches on the win with an 11-play, 47-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by White with 1:23 left.
Alma had just 247 yards in the game, rushing for 146 on 44 attempts.
White finished with 65 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns.
Burris was an efficient 10-of-13 passing for 101 yards and one touchdown, and added 50 yards on the ground. Jake Marrs caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.