By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA
Class 1A: Linden 32, Pickens County 8
TUSCALOOSA – Linden High School’s Patriots walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium as a school that had never won an AHSAA football championship.
Not anymore, thanks in big part to senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Williams.
Williams tipped the ball to himself for an interception and returned it 18 yards for a third-quarter touchdown and added a 5-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. His two touchdowns – one on defense and one on special teams in a span of less than 10 seconds – supplied the biggest plays as Linden (15-0) earned a 32-8 victory over Pickens County (11-4) in Thursday’s 2020 AHSAA Super 7 Class 1A State Football Championship Game at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Williams’ heroics helped Linden, coached by Travis Lockett, capture the school’s first AHSAA state football title after finishing runner-up in 2011 and 2018. Linden built a 14-8 halftime lead and pulled away by scoring three quick third-quarter touchdowns, despite a sputtering offense that produced just 182 yards against the Tornadoes’ tenacious defense.
“That was the turning point in this game,” Lockett said when asked about Williams’ third-quarter touchdowns. “All credit to Pickens County. They had a great defensive plan to take away our strengths. Us being able to get turnovers, especially in the second half, gave us the momentum.”
Pickens County, coached by Michael Williams, fell one win shy of winning its first state title since 2013. Williams is a Pickens County graduate who played on national title teams at Alabama in 2009, 2010 and 2013 and caught a TD pass in the 2013 BCS national title game.
Linden handed the Tornadoes two losses of their four losses this season. The other was a 36-0 victory in both schools’ season opener on Aug. 28.
“(We had too many turnovers. We didn’t protect the ball,” Pickens County coach Michael Williams said.
Linden opened the scoring with a six-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter capped by quarterback Joshua Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead. Pickens County answered later in the first quarter when Javion Belleconnected with Kajaveion Byrd for a 13-yard touchdown pass, and Xerrance Washington’s 2-point run gave the Tornadoes the lead 8-6 with 3:23 to go in the first quarter.
Linden took the lead back for good before halftime when Savion McIntosh caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Williams with 57 seconds to go before intermission. Williams hooked up with a Tim Thurman on the 2-point pass for a 14-8 halftime lead.
The Patriots took control during a 67-second span in the third quarter. Zelly Aldridge scored on 3-yard run with 4:42 to go, and Jamarcus Williams returned his interception 18 yards for a touchdown with 3:51 to go for a 26-8 lead.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, the 5-foot-11, 245-pound senior defensive lineman stripped the ball and picked it up for a 5-yard scoop-and-score fumble return to give the Patriots a 32-8 lead with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter.
“Jamarcus had an excellent game today,” Lockett said, “and just showed his capability and his athletic ability.”
Linden also appeared to have a 95-yard interception return for another touchdown later in the game, but it was nullified by a penalty.
The Patriots limited Pickens County to just 121 yards on 62 plays, including minus-30 yards rushing on 37 carries, and forced three turnovers. Tyrik Daniels led the Linden defense with six tackles and 3½ of the Patriots’ eight sacks. Jamarcus Williams has 4.5 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for a loss.
Linden managed just 182 yards of total offense, with Aldridge collecting 43 yards rushing on 11 carries. Joshua Williams finished 5-of-8 passing for 90 yards.
Byrd caught eight passes for 121 yards for Pickens County and scored the Tornadoes’ only touchdown. He also led the defense with 8½ tackles. Bell finished 12-for-25 passing for 151 yards.
Class 3A: Fyffe 21, Montgomery Catholic 16
TUSCALOOSA – Fyffe High School’s state-best current football winning streak and championship hopes appeared in serious jeopardy Thursday late in the fourth quarter when Montgomery Catholic’s defensive stand stopped the Red Devils, trailing 16-13, on fourth down at the 1-yard line.
But the Red Devils (15-0) didn’t panic.
Fyffe, coached by Paul Benefield, had a goal-line stand of its own – forcing the Knights (12-3) to punt from their own end zone which resulted in a safety to close the gap to 16-15 and the Red Devils took the free kick and drove 67 yards in just four plays to score the winning TD with just 1:03 to play to win 21-16.
After falling behind 16-0 in the opening quarter and having a blocked field goal return for a touchdown wiped off the board after an instant-replay review, Fyffe rallied to capture its third straight state championship, but first in Class 3A, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Fyffe’s Ike Rowell scored the game-winner on a 1-yard run with 1:03 remaining – his third touchdown en route to being winning the game’s MVP award – to cap a 67-yard drive that lasted just four plays. Catholic got one last chance but the Knights’ pass into the end zone on the final play fell incomplete.
“I knew these guys have no quit in them,” Benefield said. “It’s a special group of kids.”
Fyffe extended its winning streak to 45 straight games, and the Red Devils have now won five state championships in the last seven seasons. The Red Devils haven’t lost since falling to Sulligent in the 2A quarterfinals in November 2017.
Fyffe won 2A titles in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 before moving up to 3A this season. Benefield, who was honored earlier this season with the Fyffe football stadium being named in his honor, earned his 300th career coaching victory earlier this season and capped it with another state title.
“This is the sweetest one of all,” Benefield said. “It’s unbelievable. I don’t know what to say or how to put it. We’re not a come-from-behind type of team. … It’s amazing. It’s an amazing group of kids to go out 45-and-0.”
Catholic (12-3), coached by Aubrey Blackwell, sprinted to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter with Judd Osten kicking a 26-yard field goal after D.J. Carter’s 65-yard kickoff return to start the game.
Quarterback Caleb McCeary hooked up with Myles Butler for two touchdown passes – a 13-yarder to cap a 10-play, 76-yard drive and then a 56-yarder on a screen pass on the first play of the next drive for a 16-0 lead with 41 seconds to go in the first quarter. The Knights missed the first extra point and made the second.
Rowell, who rushed for 140 yards on 36 carries and completed 5-or-7 passes for 155 yards, got the Red Devils on the board with a 4-yard run with 2:33 to go in the first half to make it 16-6 after a blocked extra point. He appeared to cut into Catholic’s lead on the final play of the first half when he blocked a field goal and returned it 75 yards for an apparent touchdown. The play was overturned by instant replay following a challenge by Catholic’s Blackwell concerning expiration of the play clock expired. Upon review, the TD was nullified resulting in a delay of game penalty. Catholic then lined up for a final untimed play, but McCeary’s pass fell incomplete and the Knights carried a 16-6 lead into halftime.
After teams traded punts throughout the third quarter, Rowell scored on a 3-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 16-13.
Catholic stopped Ike Rowell on a fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter to maintain a 16-13 lead.
After the safety, Fyffe took over at its own 33 with 2:59 to go after the ensuing free kick. Rowell completed passes of 34 and 27 yards – both to Brody Dalton – to move the ball inside the Knights’ 5, and the quarterback scored the game-winner with 1:03 to go, making it 21-16.
“We don’t know how to give up,” Dalton said.
Catholic drove to the Fyffe 34 and called timeout with two seconds to go, but McCeary’s pass on the final play bounced off a teammate in the end zone and fell incomplete.
Rowell accounted for 295 of Fyffe’s 316 yards of total offense. He also returned five kickoffs of 104 yards. Dalton caught three passes for 76 yards. Justin Stiefel added two catches for 79 yards and also intercepted a pass and had four tackles on defense. Hunter Gillilan led the Fyffe defense with seven tackles.
For Catholic, McCeary finished 14-of-24 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Butler had six catches for 109 yards and two TD catches. T.J. Dudley led the defense with eight tackles, and Jeremiah Cobb logged 19 carries for 87 yards.
Catholic was trying to win its first AHSAA state football championship.
Class 5A: St. Paul’s Episcopal 29, Pleasant Grove 21
TUSCALOOSA – St. Paul’s Episcopal High School turned the Class 5A championship game into a glorified version of keep-away. It worked.
The Saints (15-0) ran 30 straight plays in the second half – thanks to a surprise onside kick and reliance on a beefy offensive line – and rallied for a 29-21 victory over Pleasant Grove as the AHSAA 25th State Championships concluded its second day of action at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday night.
Class 5A championship game MVP Will Passeau also caught two long touchdown passes to pace the win as St. Paul’s won its fifth state championship, all since 2007, and it’s the Saints’ fourth title in the last seven seasons. The victory was also the school’s 400th win in 559 total games since starting football in 1972 and completed a perfect season for the Saints.
“We wanted to get back to what we do in the second half, which is run the football, play good defense and have a good kicking game,” St. Paul’s coach Steve Mask said. “That’s what we did.”
The 25th Super 7 Championships continue Friday with championship games for Classes 2A, 4A and 6A. Handley and Gordo open Friday’s action in the 4A finals at 10 a.m., followed by Abbeville and Mars Hill Bible in the 2A championship game at 2:45 p.m. Spanish Fort meets Pinson Valley in the 6A title game at 7:30 to close out the 2020 Super 7.
All games are being televised by WOTM TV, the producer of the AHSAA TV Network, and are being live-streamed over the NFHS Network.
Pleasant Grove, coached by Darrell LeBeaux, appeared on its way to victory when Kentucky commit Chris caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from Zyquez Perryman in the opening minute of the second half for a 21-10 lead. But the Spartans never got the ball back in the third quarter.
St. Paul’s answered Lewis’ long TD with a 42-yard return kickoff return by Javonte Graves-Billups, who also capped a 14-play, 37-yard drive with a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter. Mask then called for an onside kick, and the Saints recovered. That led to another clock-sapping, 16-play drive.
“I don’t think there’s any question, that was the turning point of the game,” Mask said. Of the onside kick. “We executed it.”
The Spartans defense made it difficult, however. The Saints had seven plays inside the Spartans’ 10 and couldn’t score, and by the time Grayson Myles kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 21-20, it was the fourth quarter with 10:54 remaining.
Pleasant Grove ran just three plays in the third quarter, while St. Paul’s had 30 clock-sapping snaps that took more than 12 minutes off the clock on its back-to-back possessions. Pleasant Grove had the ball for just 4:08 of the second half.
St. Paul’s kept the pressure on, and Blake Nelson intercepted Perryman on the ensuing possession and returned it to the Spartans’ 47. Passeau delivered his second TD, catching a short pass from Bestor McFadden and juking past a defender to score untouched for a lead-stealing 39-yard touchdown.
The Saints called timeout to set up a 2-point play, but Pleasant Grove’s Jalen Stewart broke up McFadden’s pass to Passeau. No matter, because St. Paul’s led 26-21 with 8:12 to go.
“Will is a guy who has made play after play for us,” Mask said.
The Spartans fumbled on the next drive, leading to a 29-yard field goal for Myles for a 29-21 lead with 5:47 to go. St. Paul’s’ Zack Grey picked off Perryman with 3:39 remaining, and the Saints ran out the clock.
“Our guys never quit,” Mask said.
Pleasant Grove (12-3) fell one win shy of its first state championship after also finishing as 5A runner-up in 2019 and 2014. St. Paul’s also beat Pleasant Grove to win the title in 2014.
“I don’t know that they did anything different than they had (in the second half), LeBeaux said. “We made a few mistakes. They capitalized on being able to control the clock. … When we got opportunities, we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Lewis led Pleasant Grove with six catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and Perryman finished 20-of-34 passing for 280 yards, with two TDs and two interceptions.
For St. Paul’s, Passeau had six catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Jaylen Sutton ran 16 times for 102 yards, and Graves-Billups added 32 catties for 83 yards a touchdown. Trey Parker had 5½ tackles and a sack to lead the St. Paul’s defense.
St. Paul’s started the scoring when McFadden hooked up with Passeau, who made one defender miss and raced untouched to a 57-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 8:37 to go in the first quarter.
Pleasant Grove replied with 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive, and Lewis caught a 9-yard touchdown from Perryman to make it 7-all with 4:01 to go in the first quarter.
St. Paul’s answered with a 29-yard field goal from Myles with 1:35 to go in the first quarter, and the Saints recovered a Pleasant Grove fumble on the first play of the ensuing possession but went three-and-out so the score remained 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Pleasant Grove appeared to re-take the lead midway through the second quarter when Perryman scrambled and foundKeri Bester, who zigzagged for a 44-yard touchdown. The play was nullified by an illegal man downfield penalty.
The Spartans did re-take the lead on Demarcus Lacey’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:23 to go before halftime, making it 14-10 at intermission.
Perryman was tackled just 1 yard short of a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play last year in a 31-27 championship-game loss to Central of Clay County. Pleasant Grove used that loss as motivation for the last 364 days to make a return trip to the Super 7.
“It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to play a great team like St. Paul’s” in a second straight championship game, LeBeaux said.