Trinity and Montgomery Academy already played once at McLemore Field this season. A defensive battle resulted in one touchdown being scored between the two teams in a 13-3 win by the Eagles back in August.
Now, the teams meet again, with improved offenses but still built on the defensive principles that allowed the two teams to combine for 22 wins in 24 games this season.
“We’re proud of what we’ve all accomplished but that doesn’t affect this ballgame,” MA coach Robert Johnson said in reference to his team’s 12-0 start.
Two first-year coaches returning to their alma maters to coach the two most tradition-rich programs in the Capital City Conference. It’s the third time regular-season meetings between CCC teams ended in rematches in the quarterfinals. In each case, the team that lost the first meeting played much better the second time but still lost.
“I believe that both teams have gotten better as the year has progressed, there’s no doubt,” Trinity coach Granger Shook said. “Coach Johnson has won everywhere he’s been. He’s a good coach, his team’s going to be prepared, they play hard, they’re where they need to be at the right time. Hopefully, we can hang our hat on our effort as well and match their intensity.”
The last time two CCC teams met in the quarterfinals, back in 2003, Shook was a standout linebacker on a Trinity team on its way to the 4A state championship. Standing in the way was a determined St. James squad coached by Johnson. Trinity which had won the first matchup 30-14, got the very best effort from St. James that evening but still managed to beat the Trojans 20-10.
Trinity advanced to the semifinals with the win and hasn’t reached that level since. St. James lost in the quarterfinals and hasn’t reached that level since.
It bore a striking resemblance to the first quarterfinal battle between CCC teams in 1989 when first-year Alabama Christian coach John Poitevint challenged the best Catholic squad ever fielded. Jeff Clark’s team won the first meeting 7-5, then the rematch 7-6.
It was similar to the August meeting between MA and Trinity. The Wildcats drove down the field on their first possession for a field goal, then never threatened the remainder of the game. Montgomery Academy, outplayed for much of the first half, held Trinity to 38 total yards in the second half, earning a safety on special teams, scoring on a Jamal Cooper run and getting an Alex Kohn field goal on the next possession for 13 second-half points.
“They’ve got an out-of-sight defense,” Johnson said. “All of their defensive players are great – big, fast and they tackle really well, very well disciplined and well coached. That’s what stands out to me more than anything.
“But offensively, they’re doing a lot of the same stuff. They’re just getting better and better.”
Trinity won the 2003 quarterfinal game with a stellar defensive front that included Bart Eddins, Mitchell Waters, Selby Davis and Tommy Trott. This year, it is MA that features the acclaimed defensive front with Jackson Kelly, Jashawn Cooper, Thomas Kirkham and Hudson Whitt.
Because of that defensive front, Johnson knew the Eagles had the potential to be good, even as they were changing from a spread offense to a wing-T and replacing nine starters on defense.
“I knew that we had some really good players at some really important positions,” he said. “The biggest thing is I knew our defensive line was going to be really good. And when your defensive line is good, you can be a good football team. And we’ve had everyone else step up around those guys.”
Standing in the way is a Trinity team with an equally impressive defense. While Walton Cherry is having a great year at linebacker, it’s a team with few standouts on either side of the ball. As Johnson once so eloquently put it, “They just Trinity you.” It’s exactly what stood out to Shook when he accepted his first head coaching job in March.
“One thing that I knew coming in here was these student-athletes are very driven,” he said. “They’re very motivated to be successful. These new (assistant) coaches that we brought in (that were not familiar with Trinity), they were surprised. Just the drive they have, the hunger to win, is very, very strong.”
CCC MATCHUPS IN POSTSEASON
2020 – Montgomery Academy (12-0) vs. Trinity (10-2), quarterfinals
2003 – Trinity 20, St. James 10, quarterfinals
1992 – Trinity 31, Alabama Christian 0, second round
1989 – Catholic 7, Alabama Christian 6, quarterfinals
1989 – Alabama Christian 24, Trinity 6, first round
1988 – Alabama Christian 31, Catholic 14, first round
1986 – Montgomery Academy 27, Alabama Christian 0, second round