Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 21, 2009
It took the Pike Liberal Arts School more than 30 years to win its first football state championship.
It took the team less than a year to win its second, however.
With its 36-20 victory over the Bessemer Academy Rebels on Friday afternoon, the Patriots remained atop of AISA Class AAA, winning back-to-back state championships for the first time in the program’s history.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” PLAS head coach Steven Kilcrease said.
“This is really a special group of kids – this win means a lot to me.”
“I thought we had a chance to play to win [the state championship] earlier this season, but to actually do it again is an absolute amazing experience.
“I could not be more proud of this team right now,” he added.
The win capped off a nine game winning streak for the team, ending its season with an overall record of 11-1, with its only loss coming back in week three to Fort Dale.
The Patriots, who never trailed in the game, got things started on its first possession.
PLAS was able to find the back of the end zone after just 11 plays, thanks to a Taylor Stephens 23-yard run to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead after a Tanner Grant misses extra point.
The run capped an 83-yards drive that saw the team eat up over five minutes of the clock and grab five first downs along the way.
The offense would stall on the next two positions however, only gaining 39 yards and one first down.
On the Patriots’ fourth possession the team was able to make it a two score game, thanks to a Nick McLaughlin one-yard touchdown run, finishing off a seven-play, 73 yard drive that was highlighted by a Trey Walters’ 30-yard pass to Daniel Powell.
Walters’ completion to wide receiver Blake Thomas helped the Patriots get the two-point conversation and in the process a 14-point lead.
The Rebels struck back just three plays later on a Austin Gray 40-yard touchdown completion to Marcus McAfree, cutting the Patriots’ lead to just seven right before the half.
“I was scared to death of their athletes [coming into the game],” Kilcrease said.
“[Bessemer] has a lot of big play ability and they should it a little bit, but I think overall, we did a good job of containing them.”
The Patriots would do just that in the second half, despite an early scare by the Rebels.
Like how PLAS started the game, BA opened the second half with a dominating drive that lasted for 12 plays and 5 minutes and 45 seconds and spanned 70 yards.
The Rebels would tie the game on a seven-yard run by J.J. Bias, however that would be the closest it would come to the lead and winning the championship.
On the third play of the ensuring Patriots’ possession, Walters found Thomas again, this time for a 74-yard completion to the back of the end zone, giving PLAS the lead for good.
“I knew I couldn’t get more wide open, so when I saw the ball in the air I knew this was a chance to give us a lot of momentum,” Thomas said.
“I think that touchdown was really the turning point in the game. It was the big play we were looking for.”
The senior finished the game with two receptions for 128 yards and a score.
The Patriots would add 15 more points in the fourth quarter on a Powell four-yard run, a safety and finally a Stephens one-yard run to cruise to the victory.
The Rebels added one final touchdown late in the game to cut the deficit to 16.
“Everyone came together during this game and the season – that’s why we are champions again,” Walters said.
“My offensive line gave me the time needed to make the plays and my receivers always come up big for me.
“To win this game, is such an amazing feeling,” the senior added.
Walters finished his last game as a Patriot completing five of his 10 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown as well as rushing for 88 yards on 17 carries.
All in all, the PLAS offense compiled 419 yards compared to the Rebels’ 215.
“I was a little nervous coming into the game,” McLaughlin said. “I wasn’t too sure of what to expect from [Bessemer].
“When they tied the game up, we got a little worried, but we knew what we had to do and took care of business.
“To win this game, the way we did feels pretty good,” the sophomore added.