It’s arguably the biggest game in either team’s history simply because of the opponent.
When Catholic travels three miles down Vaughn Road to visit Montgomery Academy in the Class 3A semifinals on Friday night, it will mark the first time since 2016 a Montgomery team has played in the semifinals and the first time since 2003 a local team has played a semifinal game in the Capital City.
But more than that, Catholic vs. Montgomery Academy will generate a buzz among sports enthusiasts that hasn’t been felt in more than 20 years.
“It just generates great excitement for the whole community,” Montgomery Academy coach Robert Johnson said. “There’s a lot of pride.”
Many high school sports fans won’t remember the fact that G.W. Carver has played in three semifinal games or even the fact the Wolverines hosted one at Cramton Bowl in 2012, but ask about an intracity matchup in the state semifinals and people can tell you all about it.
Friday’s meeting at McLemore Field will be the third semifinal meeting in history between a pair of local teams and the first among Capital City Conference teams. Unfortunately, social distancing guidelines prevent the Eagles from hosting a crowd larger than 1,200.
The previous two semifinal matchups involving a pair of local teams occurred at Cramton Bowl, but Johnson gave no thought to playing his game in the city’s municipal stadium. Both earlier meetings involved the larger public schools, each drawing crowds of approximately 20,000 as Jeff Davis edged Sidney Lanier in 1978 and Robert E. Lee rallied past Sidney Lanier in 1999.
In the Jeff Davis win, Willie May scored both touchdowns to win a defensive battle, the final score coming on a 30-yard run with 64 seconds left and the Volunteers clinging to a 7-6 lead.
In the Generals’ win, Ken Johnson threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Davis with a little more than seven minutes remaining to rally Lee, but it took Jerome Jones’ interception of a Tarvaris Jackson pass with five seconds left to preserve the victory.
Both coaches were at the 1999 game. Johnson came to the game as a spectator. Blackwell, who played for the Generals, sat out the game with an injury and was a spectator as well.
“That night was amazing,” Blackwell said.
Both teams will practice in the mornings this week with school taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“That’s always fun,” Johnson said.
“It’s the best week of the year,” Blackwell added. “You want that inconvenience.”
Both teams are playing their best football at the right time, particularly on offense. Catholic reached this point by thrashing Bayside Academy and Opp in surprisingly easy fashion and continued that roll with more than 500 yards of offense at Thomasville in a 24-15 win on Friday.
“You didn’t have a spring and that whole eval (period) was kind of pushed back,” Blackwell explained, “so your timing is set up where in a normal season we’d probably be in week four or week five, about halfway through the season. You’re trying to play your best ball in the second half of region play but when you lose so much time that we’ve lost, we’ve had to move a lot of guys around.
“The first game with played against (Montgomery Academy), it exposed some things to us. We didn’t have a game like that before we played them.”
Catholic lost the game at McLemore Field 32-21. They haven’t lost since, reeling off seven consecutive wins.
“They’re going to be different, we’re going to be different,” Johnson said. “The (first) game we played with them, it’s flushed, it doesn’t matter.”
Montgomery Academy hasn’t lost at all this season despite changing coaches, coordinators and replacing nine starters on defense. The Eagles have been methodical at times, but added ‘impressive’ to their adjectives after destroying a talented Trinity defense on Friday in the quarterfinals.
“The biggest difference for us is our backs are seeing the holes,” Johnson said. “They’ve been there the whole time, now they’re seeing them.”
Seating for the game is restricted for COVID reasons by the Alabama High School Athletic Association to 1,187 fans (831 tickets for Montgomery Academy and 356 for Catholic). Tickets will be sold privately to players’ parents on Sunday, with the remainder available on GoFan on Tuesday at 8 a.m.
“It’s a neat thing to be a part of,” Johnson said, “but you’ve got to tune all that out and get ready for the next game.”
The winner will travel to Tuscaloosa to play the Fyffe-Piedmont winner in the Super 7 Championships at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m.
“The goal has been the same – let’s get all 22 guys healthy to Friday night,” Blackwell said. “Hopefully, with us all being out of school this week, that’ll be a little easier issue.”
For one team, they’ll be a state championship awaiting in early December but no player on either side has ever participated in a bigger game than the one that awaits on Black Friday.
“That’s going to be huge,” MA tailback Jamal Cooper said. “We’ve got experience playing them. We’re expecting to win, but we’re going to work hard in practice this week, hopefully come out with a win and go to Bryant-Denny.”
AHSAA SEMIFINAL GAMES
2020 – Catholic (11-2) vs. Montgomery Academy (13-0), McLemore Field
2012 – Opelika 35, G.W. Carver 21, Cramton Bowl
2002 – T.R. Miller 14, Montgomery Academy 12, McLemore Field
2000 – T.R. Miller 49, Trinity 10, Boykin Field
1999 – Robert E. Lee 15, Sidney Lanier 12, Cramton Bowl
1990 – Murphy 14, Robert E. Lee 7, Cramton Bowl
1989 – Georgiana 10, Catholic 7, Catholic
1987 – Montgomery Academy 17, New Site 0, McLemore Field
1987 – Vigor 22, Jeff Davis 12, Cramton Bowl
1983 – Murphy 20, Jeff Davis 6, Cramton Bowl
1981 – Northview 10, Jeff Davis 7, Cramton Bowl
1979 – Enterprise 9, Jeff Davis 7, Cramton Bowl
1978 – Jeff Davis 14, Sidney Lanier 6, Cramton Bowl
1977 – W.A. Berry 10, Sidney Lanier 3, Cramton Bowl
1972 – Huffman 28, Jeff Davis 21, Cramton Bowl
1970 – Robert E. Lee 35, Scottsboro 8, Cramton Bowl
1969 – Robert E. Lee 28, Woodlawn 13, Cramton Bowl
1968 – Sidney Lanier 42, W.A. Berry 0, Cramton Bowl
1968 – St. Jude 19, Clay County 13, Cramton Bowl
1967 – Sidney Lanier 47, Guntersville 7, Cramton Bowl
1966 – Robert E. Lee 46, Huntsville 7, Cramton Bowl
1966 – Sidney Lanier 47, Shades Valley 7, Cramton Bowl