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Patriots claim top spot in AAA

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots proved to the entire state why they are the best team in the AISA Class AAA ranks Friday afternoon with a 20-17 victory over Fort Dale Academy.

“I am excited for these kids,” PLAS head coach Steven Kilcrease said. “I have said all along it is about the kids and they did a great job tonight. They refused to lose. We had several opportunities to fold and we just didn’t do it.”

One of those opportunities came late in the game. The Patriots trailed 17-14 with 6:11 showing on the clock in the fourth quarter and were pinned on their own 10-yard line.

But the final six-plus minutes unfolded how much of the rest of the season has unfolded for the 12-1 Patriots. On the first play from the 10-yard line PLAS ran what Kilcrease calls the Patriot, which is a play they have run only a couple of times this season, but senior tailback Jerel Foster started in motion and took the handoff 46 yards up field and lifted the Patriots off the mat.

“Going in we thought they would adjust more to some of our unbalanced things and they didn’t, so we had a huge hole to run through,” Kilcrease said. “That 90-yard drive was amazing.”

Foster caught a case of cramps from the waist down following the long run, but he was not going to let that keep him off the field and he punched the ball in from one-yard out to put the Patriots up 20-17.

“I told myself I can’t go out right now and I have to be there to for my teammates,” Foster said. “My teammates encouraged me to fight through the pain and (the cramps) all of a sudden left and my teammates were blocking, they were ready to win a state championship, they executed on every play and it was the best drive we had all year because it was the state championship game winning drive.”

Foster finished the night with 224 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.

The Patriot defense clamped down to close out the championship.

“Our defense stepped up when they had to and the stop there at the end was the biggest of the year,” Kilcrease said. “We are up with 1:28 to go and they get the ball with fairly good field position and that sack was probably the biggest tackle of the game. Our secondary did a great job covering their receivers.”

Senior defensive lineman Phillip Quincey recorded the sack, which also caused a fumble, pushed the Eagles (10-3) back nine yards and was his only tackle of the game.

“It was huge and I was just hoping we would get the ball back on the fumble,” Quincey said. “I didn’t want to let him scramble and get out of there.”

Two incompletions later the Patriots had the ball and knelt on it for the historic victory.

Fort Dale got the scoring started late in the first quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Dustin Till to senior wide receiver Paul Whigham with 3:41 to go in the first quarter. The PAT from Sean McKeague was wide and FDA held a 6-0 advantage.

The Patriots took seven plays and nearly four minutes to answer, as Foster rumbled 16 yards for Pike’s opening score. Josh Taylor booted the PAT through for a 7-6 Patriot lead with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Fort Dale’s next drive stalled and they were forced to punt. On the punt an Eagle player touched the ball as it flew through the air, but did not down it and Pike senior Douglas Hawkins alertly scooped up the live ball and scampered 55 yards untouched into the end zone. Taylor’s PAT was true and Pike held a 14-6 lead with 10:20 remaining in the first half.

“When you pick a ball up and you don’t hear a whistle blow and you think you are going to hear a whistle blow and they never blow it, that is a good feeling,” Hawkins said. “If you are running and you know there is no one running after you and you know you are going to score, that is a great feeling.”

Kilcrease was happy with the quick thinking of his senior.

“Douglas had a heads up play,” he said. “They tipped the ball and Douglas is smart enough to realize it is not dead and he went and got the ball. I look out there and he was gone. That was a huge play for us.”

The Eagles added a 25-yard field goal on the leg of McKeague before halftime and Pike hit the locker room with a 14-9 lead.

With 5:00 to go in the third quarter Jeff Steed grabbed the lead back for the Eagles with a two-yard touchdown run on fourth down and Whigham added the two-point conversion for the 17-14 lead. Foster and the defense took it from there as Pike made history.

Pike senior linebacker Corey Goodson led all players with 12 tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Freshman defensive back Nick McLaughlin added 11 tackles. Junior linebacker Will Starling had eight tackles, one for a loss.