Patriots celebrate Thanksgiving as state champions

Published 11:20 am Saturday, November 27, 2021

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The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots began the season expected by many to win the AISA State championship for the second consecutive season. The Patriots lived up to that potential when they knocked off Tuscaloosa Academy last Friday night in Montgomery.

The Patriots finished the season 12-1 overall, with their only loss coming in week one against Escambia Academy.

“A lot of pride with these guys, a lot of excitement,” coach Rush Hixon said. “Winning a championship at any level is not easy, it’s actually really hard. Nobody really saw the behind the scenes work the guys put in. They just saw the final product. To be on the journey with them the whole time and see the hard work they put in to reach that goal is something that I have a lot of pride in. I was proud of them and excited for those guys.”

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The fact the Patriots were picked to repeat this season was not something the Patriots focused on in the spring and summer months. Under then head coach Mario White, the Patriots got to work, hoping to continue their run of success.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Hixon said. “It was one of the good things about having so many new kids on the team. They were still pretty hungry. Kids from last year’s team wanted to repeat and continue the success. From day one they set that goal and it never wavered. The goal never changed, the work ethic never changed. All those guys had their sights set on it and they put the team first. It’s a beautiful thing when the whole team puts the team’s goal above their individual goals and then achieves those goals. All the credit to them for continuing the course.”
It wasn’t always easy for the Patriots this season. Whether it was losing the opening game 42-26 or a coaching change, the Patriots overcame adversity throughout the 2021 season.

“We had multiple things go on throughout the year,” Hixon said. “We just kept coming back to each other. We made it about us and every time we met, no matter what somebody was going through, whether that be someone having a family issue or something else off the field, we kept putting the guys and the team first. It was truly a family atmosphere the whole year.”

The Patriots welcomed in plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball this season. The players immediately meshed together as a family and made an impact both on the field and in the classroom.

“I think that’s the coolest thing so far,” Hixon said. “They came in from day one and they were taken in as family. They bought into what we were doing. There was never any issue in that first week. As far as the impact, it was enormous. There were a lot of really talented kids that came in and some really good ball players. Their impact was felt on and off the field. They were not only impactful on the field, but in the classrooms as well. The kids bought into everything we do as an entire school. It’s a really beautiful thing.”

On the field, the Patriots wreaked havoc on both sides of the ball. Newcomers, including quarterback Cason Eubanks and receiver Ian Foster, meshed with the returning offensive weapons from a year ago and averaged 40 points per game. They scored over 60 points twice this season.

“We were truly balanced,” Hixon said. “We ran the ball more than we passed it, but I felt we could do either at any time. The beautiful thing was at any time we had guys on the field where anyone could touch the ball and score a touchdown. They all had big play ability. Up front we were really good. Coach (Ryan) McCollough had that unit working really well all year and definitely in the playoff stretch. It was a really good group as a whole on the offensive side of the ball.”

The defense held opponents to under 10 points per game this season. As a whole, the Patriots outscored opponents this season 520-127.

“Those guys were incredible,” Hixon said. “We knew coming in that defense was probably what we were going to lean on. They were really good up front and gave pressure up front. Really good linebacking core and the backend was strong. As a whole, I thought the team was really balanced and special teams as well. I thought in all three phases of the game we had a really good team.”

Many of the Patriots will now transition to basketball and then baseball, but spring football isn’t far away.

“I think you need to find out what wakes you up in the morning and makes you want to get better,” Hixon said. “Winning a championship is awesome, but what can we do to take it to the next level. That is going to my challenge once we get back to meet about offseason stuff. What can we do to get better? We were good, we had a great year, but there are still things to do to get better.”