Edgewood holds off Marengo to earn another state championship
By Tim Gayle
TROY – It would come down to one final sling from David, but it wasn’t enough to bring down Goliath.
Marengo Academy senior Hayden Huckabee rolled right from the Edgewood 19 and lobbed his pass toward Landon Houlditch in the back of the end zone, but Jackson Tate was there to tip it away, preserving Edgewood’s 40-34 victory over the Longhorns for the Alabama Independent School Association’s Class AA state football championship at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
Marengo (10-2) lost in the state championship game for the second consecutive year to Edgewood, but the Longhorns rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats (13-0) their closest brush with defeat since losing to Glenwood 13-12 on Oct. 22, 2010. Since then, the Elmore County squad has reeled off a national-best 71 consecutive wins and an AISA-record six consecutive state championships.
“We haven’t had to fight through any adversity this year,” Edgewood coach Bobby Carr said. “And I told them before the game, ‘If we get in a dogfight, you’ve got to find a way. Champions always find a way to be the last one standing.’ What a resilient effort there at the end. And hats off to Marengo. What a great display of character and class and effort and pride in their program.”
Carr spoke with Marengo Academy football coach Webb Tutt for a few moments after the game, no doubt expressing the same admiration for a program that has seen three head coaches since Hall of Fame coach Robby James stepped down after losing to Edgewood 55-25 in the AA finals last November.
Gary Caldwell was named head coach in February, but was forced out by the school’s board of trustees in July, during which time Tutt, a defensive coordinator who was the Longhorns’ head coach in the mid-1990s, took over as head coach. Tutt was then demoted weeks later to make way for David Barham, who coached the Longhorns for two games until he left, forcing school administrators to turn, once again, to Tutt, who didn’t lose a game until Friday.
“If there’s anyone with more heart than this group, I want to see it,” said Tutt, his voice choking with emotion. “This group, coming through three head coaches and to have the fight they had, it was unbelievable. We could have laid down. We turned around and fought a tough Clarke Prep team, found a way to win, then started clicking.”
What was even more remarkable was the four different offenses the Longhorns employed in their transition from James to Caldwell to Barham to Tutt, but their grind-it-out style on display Friday was a thing of beauty in the fourth quarter as they rallied from a two-touchdown deficit.
Up until that point, the style points belonged to Edgewood, who answered every challenge from Marengo with a high-powered offense that offered no clue of the exciting finish that was on hand. Edgewood scored on the opening drive in two and a half minutes, then answered a Marengo touchdown with an 88-second drive to go back on top. Of Edgewood’s six scoring drives, all found the end zone in less than three minutes.
But that’s not to say the Longhorns didn’t have their chances. As they reflect on the game, Marengo players will wonder how Edgewood quarterback Nathan Rourke continued to break tackle after tackle, avoiding sack after sack to finish with 53 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries. And when he scrambled for more time, he was able to complete 19 of 27 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. That brought his season total to 59, tying Chris Smelley of American Christian (2005) for the most ever thrown by a high school quarterback in this state.
“He’s as good as it gets,” Carr said. “To me, he’s the best quarterback I’ve seen in this area in 15 years. He can make it happen with his feet, with his arm, with his knowledge of the game. He’s a special talent and whoever lands him (in college), they’re getting something special. Not just what you see on the field, but he’s even a better person off the field.”
Tutt only knows what he saw on the field and offered no argument.
“He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation,” he said. “You pick your poison, whether you want to rush four or five. He just hurt us all night. But it looked like every time everybody would have us for dead, here we’d come right back. I can’t describe how proud I am of these guys here. Best group of people I’ve ever been around.”
After turning the ball over on downs at the Marengo 39 on the first possession of the second half, the Longhorns found themselves in a huge hole when Edgewood scored to take a two-touchdown lead. But Marengo finally forced an Edgewood punt – only the third time all season the Wildcats had punted – and Jon Johnson’s punt rolled dead inside the 1-yard line with 7:54 left.
“We said when we had the ball at the 1, we’re not going to give them the ball back,” Tutt said. “Then time kind of got us.”
The Longhorns’ 23-play drive was a remarkable display of sheer determination. Huckabee fought for eight yards on third-and-six from the 5; caught a fourth-and-four pass from Robert Tutt and angled between two defenders to reach the chains at the 43; and Tutt finally kept on a fourth-and-one quarterback sneak that put the ball at the Edgewood 13 with 10 seconds left.
“It was constant frustration, but we knew with that offense they have, they just love to chew the clock away so that was definitely in our favor,” Tate said. “Once we quit giving up big plays, I knew we had them.”
But there was no time left. The Longhorns would have to go to the air.
“I was kind of yelling at my D coordinator, put more pressure on them,” Carr said. “Even if they popped it, we’d still have time to go back down and score. But we still found a way to hold them off. I can’t say enough about their kids. They laid it all on the line. In a game like this, neither team deserved to lose.”
Tutt rolled right and threw over a well-covered Cason Cook, leaving three seconds. He was replaced at quarterback by Huckabee for the final play, resulting in an illegal substitution penalty of six yards. Huckabee had the touch, but his prayer went unanswered as Tate and Maurice Young converged on the ball.
“We knew they didn’t have any more timeouts and they couldn’t run the ball again,” Tate said. “That’s what their power was. Me and Maurice (Young) just read his eyes the whole time and when he threw it up, just tried to swat it down.”
Abbeville Christian 42,
Fenn’s 73-yard reception late in the second quarter was one of three touchdown passes thrown by Drex Roach, who was 7 of 10 for 283 yards. Roach threw scoring passes of 32 and 55 yards to Kros Payne and Devon McCree, respectively, before throwing his third touchdown pass of the game to Fenn for a 28-6 halftime lead.
Roach also had a 53-yard pass to Payne midway through the first quarter to set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak on the next play.
Fenn, who rushed for 66 yards on 11 carries, accounted for all of the Generals’ points in the second half, throwing 16 yards to Payne for a touchdown and running 5 yards for a 42-6 lead late in the third quarter.
Abbeville (12-1) finished the season unbeaten in Class A, with its only loss coming late in the regular season to AA finalist Marengo.
Malik Lyons led Chambers (10-3) with 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries. C. Gillespie added 100 yards on 17 carries, reaching the century mark with a nine-year gain on the game’s final play.
Bessemer Academy 34
Burnett’s quarterback sneak broke a scoreless tie in the first quarter and a 61-yard pass from Burnett to Marcus Moody set up Brodie Medders’ 4-yard scoring run two plays later for a 20-0 lead.
After Monroe scored to cut into the lead, Burnett hit Moody with a 33-yard touchdown pass for a 27-6 lead.
The win was especially sweet for a group of seniors that lost in the 2014 AAA finals to Escambia and in the 2013 AAA finals to Monroe. It was the fourth trip in five years to the finals for Bessemer (13-0), which won the 2011 championship as well.