Gators return to site of biggest win

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Sports Editor

Clarke Prep is making a return trip to the AISA Class A State Championship game this season, but head coach Billy Hamilton and the Gators are facing a different opponent.

The Gators will square off against the Calvary Watchmen at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Troy’s Memorial Stadium.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The game will also take place at a different time. Last season, Clarke Prep won a 44-37 high noon shoot out with South Montgomery County Academy, but this year’s AISA Triple Championship games have been rotated. The Class AA game will be a 1:00 p.m. followed by the Class AAA title contest at 4 p.m.

Hamilton remembers much about the win from a year ago, especially that the weather conditions – mainly drizzling rain and cold temperatures – were perfectly suited to the Gators’ brand of smashmouth football.

"We run out of the Wing-T so the weather was fine for us," Hamilton said.

The Gators fought back from a 22-8 halftime deficit to the Raiders for the victory.

This year’s team is basically the same as last season, according to Hamilton, and enter Friday’s game with an identical record at 11-1.

"We lost to Patrician (Academy) early," said Hamilton, who is a 1979 graduate of Troy State. "It’s more of a relief, really, to get back in the championship game, but it’s been harder keeping them focused."

Quarterback Brandon Etheridge returns as does fullback Bo Keahey. The Gators lost 2,000-yard rusher Jeremy Welch to graduation, but returned Ricky Lear, who had over 1,000 yards going into last Friday’s 61-12 win over Abbeville. Lear, however, was lost for the season due to an injury on Friday night.

In the title game against SMCA, Lear and Welch combined for 477 yards rushing.

Keahey moved into Welch’s wingback spot and has responded with over 800 yards this year.

"We basically start the same offense and there’s not a kid on this team who did not play last year," said Hamilton.

Hamilton looks for Calvary to do some of the things that SMCA did last year against the Gators.

"They’re (Calvary)

a veer-offense running team and they’ll go to a split-back formation sometimes," he said. "But they’re fast and can fly. They’ve got a quarterback who can run and throw, plus they’re like us in that they had to win some big games to get here."

This may be Clarke Prep’s last go at the Class A title for awhile. With 38 players on this season’s roster, Hamilton expects to be bumped up a classification next season.

The Gators will be in Troy on Thursday. Hamilton said he and his team may try to take in the Class 5A second round AHSAA game between Charles Henderson and Robertstdale that night.