Nail biter

Published 11:18 pm Friday, November 13, 2009

After 48 minutes of action in Selma Friday night, the scoreboard looked the same as it did at the beginning of the AISA Class AAA semifinal between Pike Liberal Arts and Morgan Academy.

Morgan took the ball first and was held to just a field goal, but PLAS sophomore Nick McLaughlin scored from six yards out for the game’s first, last and only touchdown.

McLaughlin’s run set off a wild celebration in the end zone, as the Patriots clinched their second straight state title berth 6-3.

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“My line did a good job of giving me a hole,” McLaughlin said. “I just kept driving my feet and got in the end zone.”

Head coach Steven Kilcrease said the play was a veer option play in which senior quarterback Trey Walters had to make a read on where to go with the football.

“Trey gave the dive and Nick got behind somebody, kept driving his legs and got in the end zone,” Kilcrease said. “He just ran hard like he has all year long.”

For McLaughlin, the moment was something he said he will remember forever. “I knew it was big because I knew we had won the game that sent us to state,” McLaughlin said. “I would say it’s up there in top five moments ever at least, if not the top one.”

As big as McLaughlin’s run was, the biggest play of the game may have come on Morgan’s first offensive play in the overtime session.

Senator quarterback Austin Smitherman handed off to running back Cody Wheat, who scored from ten yards out. However, the play was called back due to a hold, and Morgan was unable to punch the ball into the end zone, instead settling for a Lanny Harrison field goal.

The timing of the penalty was almost appropriate, as PLAS had sustained several drive-killing penalties throughout the game.

The Patriots had the ball in Morgan territory eight times in regulation, with no points to show for it.

“It was a lot like our first game with them,” Kilcrease said. “We got the ball down close and we weren’t able to execute. We weren’t able to punch those in and against a team that plays defense like Morgan, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you’ve got.”

One of the major reasons for the Patriot win was the play of the defense, something the Patriots have hung their hats on all season long.

“Our defense was solid all night,” Kilcrease said. “We contained Smitherman, which is what we knew we had to do. You’ve got to give them credit defensively.”

For Kilcrease, the game was more than just a big win. “That’s the best football game I’ve ever been a part of,” Kilcrease said. “It was two teams that fought tooth and nail the entire game. You hate to see any team lose a game like that.

Pike Liberal must now turn its attention to preparing for the state championship game against Bessemer Academy. Much like the semifinal against Morgan, the game against Bessemer will be a rematch of a game that PLAS won. Kilcrease said the onus in the game will be on his defense, much as it has been all year long.

“They’ve got athletes all over the football field and we’ve got to work on containing those guys defensively,” Kilcrease said. “We’ve just got to get back to work.”

Fortunately for PLAS, the game will be played in Troy at Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium.

“That’s an advantage nobody else has,” Kilcrease said. “We’re playing in front of our hometown, and we’re excited about it.”

Pike Liberal and Bessemer will clash for the state championship Friday.