Patriot seniors lead the charge for third title
The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots find themselves in a familiar position this week.
For the third-straight season, the team is preparing for a semi-final playoff matchup, in the hopes of winning its third-straight state championship.
While some of the faces and names have changed over the last couple of seasons, there are still a number of players who have lived through the past two championship seasons, and now, its those senior’s turn to leave their own mark on the school.
And that’s exactly what they plan on doing when it’s all said and done.
But it has not been all fun and games for the 10 Patriot seniors, Taylor Stevens, Evan Strother, Martin Meeks, Ashton Davis, Sam Carroll, Andrew Quincey, Dylan Richards, Ben McKeller, Travis Broadway and Jackson Nelson.
Like every other season, the team has gone through its ups and downs, but the pressure that the team had to deal with at the beginning of this season, especially the seniors, was one that was difficult to overcome.
“There was a lot of pressure right from the start,” Meeks said about trying to continue the tradition of winning another championship. “And I think it may have effected us a little bit at the beginning of the season.
“That wasn’t always the case before the first (state championship) though. Before, we were always kind of afraid to play the bigger schools because they were better. But since then, things have changed. Now, teams are looking up at us. And that is a confidence booster for us no matter where we go.”
That was not the case twice this season for the Patriots, once when the team traveled to Monroe Academy and a second time when PLAS played host to Fort Dale.
Both games resulted in the only two losses the Patriots were handed this season, but out of those two games, the team grew stronger, according to the seniors.
“I think with those games, we realized that we weren’t going to be handed anything,” Strother said. “We realized nothing was going to be easy for us.
“And that was something that really helped us. We tried to work harder after those games, I think our focus was better. We knew we really had to earn everything we got.”
The Patriots displayed that new level of focus following the Monroe game against Prattville Christian, when the team got a big road win against a then undefeated team.
“I think a real turning point was when we beat Prattville Christian on the road the following week,” Stevens said.
“They were a pretty good team and we beat them up there. That gave us a lot of confidence and really showed us that we are a good team when we play at our best.”
This week, the team will again prepare to show off how far they have come against a team that handed the program its only shutout and road loss in almost three seasons in Monroe.
“You don’t forget when a team beats you 35-0,” both Strother and Carroll said.
“That game really hurt.”
While the loss may still hurt, there is little doubt in the Patriots’ minds of what the outcome will be this time around.
“This is the game we want,” defensive end Andrew Quincey said. “The best two teams in the state will be playing each other this Friday.
“In the past, we have never been able to play a team that beat us in the same season – this is our shot to redeem ourselves. This is our shot to show we are a good team. We are guaranteed just four more quarters and we are going to fight all the way through.”
Despite the confidence or the pressures the season may bring, the fact that each player has been through this before in one way or another is the main attribute that the seniors bring to the table, according to their coach.
“They all have experience thanks to the past couple of seasons,” head coach Steven Kilcrease said. “And that is probably the biggest factor for this season’s team.
“Every team is different, but all of these guys have had playing experience in big game situations. And that has really showed this season, especially towards the end. They have all stepped up in their own way and led this team.”
With the biggest game of the season just two days away, the coach said he expects his seniors to continue to do the same thing they have done for the better half of the season – lead.
“There are some personalities on this team, but this group really has a lot of fun, they are all good friends,” the coach said.
“They have had their hard times, but they all have worked through them. They know nothing is going to be handed to them, and they are working hard to make sure they leave a good legacy at the school.”