Story by Griffin Pritchard | Publisher
Photos by Brian Tannehill | Director of Photography
MONTGOMERY – A coaching change late in the playoffs didn’t slow down the Pike Liberal Patriots as they knocked off Tuscaloosa Academy 41-21 to win their second Class AAA crown in as many trips to the championship game.
“Execution was what mattered. Our guys bought into a good game plan and were able to go out and execute it,” said Rush Hixson, coach of the Pike Liberal Patriots.
Hixson replaced Mario White who was dismissed hours before the semifinal kickoff.
Hixson: “I stood into a spot as a face to a great group of kids. I made sure it’s all about them. As soon as it happened – I told them it has nothing to do with me, it’s all about ya’ll. I’m just here to guide and try to lead. They had a goal from day one and bought into it and I just can’t say enough about these kids.”
Those kids turned away multiple Tuscaloosa Academy advances and battled through a night where yellow seemed to be the third team on the field. Both teams struggled with penalties – to the point of having drives thwarted despite the combined 62 points scored.
The Patriots went up 7-0 in the first and then 14-0 early second.
The Knights answered with less than 4:00 to play in the half when freshman quarterback Preston Lanscaster tossed a 33-yard dime. With the kick, the score was halved at 14-7.
“We just got beat up tonight. Our starting quarterback David McNeal broke his thumb and we had to put Preston in and he got his ribs bruised really bad and then (Jordan Evans) has the flu. It got to a point where I didn’t know who I was going to have to put in,” said Josh Wright, Coach of the Knights. “But they gutted it out. For a freshman to go in there and take those hits …”
Pike answered – scoring on the ensuing kickoff.
Tuscaloosa responds with a kickoff return touchdown of their own.
The next kick was a touchdown, so the Patriots set up shop at the 20. But that was a momentary pause in the developing track meet. ZaKevin Pennington took the handoff and dashed 80-yards downfield moving the mark to 28-14 at the intermission.
Tuscaloosa – after intercepting a Pike pass on 3rd and 34 – went to the air and the freshman went to work. Lancaster connected with Wilson King for a gain of 29 to start the drive and then ended it with a 14-yard toss to King for the touchdown in the back of the end zone. The kick cut the score to 28-21 with 3:11 left in the third.
Wright: “We cam out there and our kids believed.”
A fourth quarter interception by Pike put them at their own 32 to start the drive. In the old-school I formation the quarterback handed off to fullback Markelis Hobdy and he rumbled his way downfield for the 68-yard touchdown. After fielding a squib kick at the 39 – the Patriots put the game away wih a 32-yard touchdown run by Kam Baker. With the kick, the game reached the final mark of 41-21.
Hixson: “We had to scalback some things offensively to get back on track. The third quarter – all those penalties, first and a gazillion – that was on me.”
Wright: “We didn’t get off our blocks well – we didn’t fit well, and that’s a credit to Pike. That’s a big kid and we didn’t tackle well. But we’ve got to give a lot of credit to him too, he’s a beast.”
The Patriots – who knocked Glenwood into a coaching search after last week’s win – are sending Tuscaloosa over to the AHSAA where they will be a 2A beginning with the 2022 season.
Wright: “We have a great senior class, seven seniors – so we are losing some great players but not a lot of numbers and hopefully we are going to gain some momentum going in. Everybody gets a little older. We had a great junior high team, we’ll just go from there.”
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