2016 HS PLAYOFFS: Montgomery Academy leads large Capital City Conference contengent
Coaches always talk about a fresh start in the state playoffs, how it’s almost like starting over.
Montgomery Academy can certainly relate.
The Eagles (7-3) spent most of August searching for a quarterback before settling on Trey Lindsey, only to lose the sophomore to a broken collarbone in Friday’s win over Alabama Christian. That means the Eagles will be heading into the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs with freshman C.J. Paymon taking snaps.
“I’ve got to practice what I preach,” Montgomery Academy coach Gary Nelson said, “and what I preach to my kids all the time is your circumstance is what happens to you and your character is how you respond to it. It hurts to lose Trey Lindsey, but I believe this group of guys is special and they will find a way to respond. We’ve got a good quarterback in C.J. Paymon. We haven’t gotten him enough work because he broke his (non-throwing) hand. We think we can win games in the playoffs with C.J. Paymon.”
Paymon started Friday night’s game with a soft cast on his left hand, then removed it when he had to make the move to quarterback. He didn’t believe the change of quarterbacks meant a change in the Eagle offense.
“I think we’ll do the same things, I’ll just have to practice on it,” the freshman said.
Nelson noted the Eagles “have had a C.J. ‘package’ for a little while. We added to that at halftime (Friday), we’ll add to that in the week ahead.”
Montgomery Academy will play Oakman (6-4) for the first time in Friday’s game at McLemore Field and will be trying to break a trend as no first-year MA coach has ever won a playoff game. And while the Eagles know little about their opponent, Oakman coach Mark Hastings is familiar with Montgomery Academy, having served as an assistant coach in the area in the 1990s at Autauga Academy and Edgewood Academy.
Hastings was hired to start the Holy Spirit football program in Tuscaloosa in 2004 and moved on to Oakman in 2009, where each of his last five teams have won their first-round playoff game.
Other Capital City Conference teams in the playoffs include St. James, Catholic and Alabama Christian.
St. James, the champion of Region 2, will face Satsuma for the first time in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs at Carlisle Field on Friday night. The Trojans (9-1), riding an eight-game winning streak, are seeking their first playoff victory since 2003. The Gators (6-4), under second-year coach Justin Thomas, have never won a playoff game in four previous appearances and are making their first trip to the state playoffs since 2006, but are battle tested after playing in what may be the toughest region in the state in Region 1.
Catholic, the third seed in Region 2, will open play on the road in the first round of the 4A state playoffs at Thomasville’s Anderson Field. Catholic (8-2) will be making its first playoff appearance since 2008, with its last win in the playoffs coming in 1989. The eight wins by the Knights are the most since Charlie Jones’ 1994 team. Their only other meeting with Thomasville was a 28-14 loss in the first round of the 2008 state playoffs.
Thomasville (7-2), under Jack Hankins Jr., has made the playoffs in all 15 years he has coached the Tigers. He is quite familiar with Catholic as his father served as the Knights’ coach in 1978-80.
Alabama Christian (4-6), the fourth seed in Region 2, will make its first playoff appearance since 2009 by facing Andalusia in Memorial Stadium on Friday night. ACA has never beaten Andalusia in four previous meetings and has lost in the first round on each of its previous seven trips, with its last win coming against Springville in 1992.
The Bulldogs (9-1), considered one of the state’s best, opened play in Montgomery in the Champions’ Challenge in August. Trent Taylor is 20-3 in his two years at Andalusia after coaching the previous 25 years at Straughn. He is making his 10th consecutive playoff appearance and 19th in the last 20 years. In 29 years of coaching, he has guided a team to the state playoffs 25 times.
Jeff Davis got a reprieve thanks to the forfeiture of games by city rival Robert E. Lee and will play in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs on Friday.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the Vols draw defending champion McGill-Toolen on the road.
"It’s a tall order but we are excited," JD coach Lee Carter said at Saturday’s coaches meeting at the AHSAA office. "We’ve got new life and we hope to take advantage of it."
In Class 6A, Park Crossing (10-0), the champion of Region 2, will open play on Friday night at Cramton Bowl in the first round of the playoffs against Saraland (6-4). Park Crossing, in its third year of existence, is seeking its first-ever playoff victory after getting upset by Bessemer in the first round last year.
Saraland, in its seventh year of existence, has been coached by former Citronelle and Southern Miss quarterback Jeff Kelly the last six years. Kelly will be seeking his 100th coaching victory on Friday after leading his team to the 5A semifinals in 2013 and the 6A finals in 2014, where he lost to Clay-Chalkville.
Sidney Lanier (8-2) returns to the playoffs for a second-consecutive year riding high after an exciting win over Prattville in the season finale. The Poets won, 21-20, when the Lions missed an extra point after scoring on the final play of the game.
"We’ve work very hard to get to this point but there is a lot left to do," Lanier coach Marvin Cunningham said. "There is no satisfaction in just making the playoffs."
Wetumpka (8-2) and G.W. Carver (5-5) will go on the road for their first-round games, facing McAdory and Spanish Fort, respectively.
Prattville Christian (5-5) will also go on the road to Gordo for a first round 3A game.