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Catholic faces rival with championship hopes at stake

Story by Griffin Pritchard | Publisher

Photos by CAScoreboard Staff Photographers

CENTRAL ALABAMA SCOREBOARD OFFICE — In a matter of hours rivals Montgomery Academy and Montgomery Catholic will engage in a four-quarter battle with a berth in the 3A AHSAA State Championship game on the line. But this is not foreign territory – the Knights and Eagles have thrice banged heads in the past two seasons. Tonight marks their fourth meeting.

“It’s hard to simulate what they do because it’s unique and they do it so well,” said Kirk Johnson, Coach of the Montgomery Catholic Knights. “(Seeing each other play) has helped us and I’m sure them as well because this is our fourth time playing each other in two years. So, there is some familiarity.”

The Eagles – Region 3 Champions – used their ball-control veer-option style offense to knock off Flomaton (35-7), Trinity (21-17) and TR Miller (28-0) in succession. MA’s defense has given up 24 points in the postseason. Runningback turned signal-caller Jamal Cooper was key to the Eagles handing Miller their first shutout loss since 2015. Cooper threw for 78 and ran for 118 and a score in the win. The win was a group effort as JaShawn Cooper rushed for 104 yards and three scores. The Eagles – in the win – were up 21-0 at the intermission.

Montgomery Catholic – No. 1 in the state’s sportswriters’ final poll and the champions of Region 4 – marched through Houston Academy (56-7), Bayside Academy (31-0) and Hillcrest-Evergreen (41-6) to advance to the semifinal for the second year in a row.  Montgomery Catholic has allowed 13. The Knights aren’t shy on talent this season. Jeremiah Cobb currently has surpassed 2,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons with 30 touchdowns. He’s also amassed more than 550 yards as a receiver, catching passes from quarterback Caleb McCreary out of the backfield. McCreary has thrown for 1,900 yards so far and will finish this year as a back-to-back 2,000-yard passer.

But the defense is where the Knights have shut down their opponents. Oregon-bound TJ Dudley leads the bunch with 65 solo tackles (57 assists and 27 for loss) and six interceptions (four turned into housecalls). The Mississippi State-bound pairing of Kylon Griffin and Jourdan Thomas (a combined 54 solo tackles) have proven to play lockdown in the defensive backfield. Patrick Ryan (42 tackles and 54 assists) and Javen Augustus (currently leading the team in sacks, with eight) are also keys to the Knights’ being successful.

The Knights – who knocked off MA last season – advanced to the state championship game in 2020 and was an incomplete pass in the endzone away from dethroning perennial football power Fyffe. Johnson: “(Playing in the 2020 championship game) has prepared us a lot. We understand how much work goes into making a deep run in the playoffs. We understand that the next day, “game,” isn’t guaranteed.”

Saks – this season – ended Fyffe’s season in the quarterfinals and will face Piedmont tonight in the other 3A semifinal.

Both teams – regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game – are in rarified air, putting together a Thanksgiving football practice.

Johnson: “It’s been a pretty normal week for us. We had school Monday and Tuesday, so those days didn’t really change much. The biggest adjustment is trying to let the kids enjoy both Thanksgiving and playing in the fourth round all at once.”

Kickoff for tonight’s semifinal is set for 7 p.m.

Founder/Publisher of Central Alabama Scoreboard. Former sportsguy, managing editor, currently working for the City of Tallassee as a Public Information Specialist and grant writer.

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