It was the kind of game that wasn’t going to be settled in the traditional way.
St. James tried to feature Austin Gavin in its running game. Trinity relied on its short passing game and the running of Tate Holley. After a scoreless first half, both sides knew changes were in order.
“It was a great high school football game,” St. James coach Jimmy Perry said. “Both teams got after each other and played a hard, clean ballgame. The first half was like two heavyweights exchanging punches. I really thought whoever scored first was probably going to win this game.”
Trinity would run the ball just nine times in the second half, using four consecutive pass plays to deliver the first knockout punch with a scoring drive to open the third quarter. The Trojans withstood the challenge and answered in eight plays with a big pass play to set up a game-tying touchdown, then finishing off the Wildcats with an interception return for a touchdown in a 14-7 win at Carlisle Field on Friday night.
“They’ve got a really good defense,” St. James senior Bennett Blankenship said, “so we knew we had to come out and execute. I think it really came down to time management and who could throw the football. They’re a really good football team. They’ve got three losses to all good teams … so we knew it was going to be a dogfight from the beginning.”
The Trojans came up with the big play first, storming through to block Preston Berry’s punt on the Wildcats’ first possession of the game. Clayton Craft blocked the punt and Wilson Carter recovered on the Trinity 15-yard line, but the Wildcats turned the momentum back in their favor seven plays later when Gavin was stopped inches short on a fourth-and-goal carry from inside the 1-yard line.
That was the only scoring threat until Trinity delivered on the first drive of the second half, turning to the air to move the football. John David Bonner threw four straight completions and moments later ran eight yards to the St. James 1-yard line to set up Holley’s scoring run a play later for a 7-0 lead.
The Trojans answered in similar fashion. After Gavin ran for a yard – giving St. James 43 rushing yards on 27 carries – Drew Fett threw deep over the middle and hit Ethan Beard in stride for a 64-yard gain to the Trinity 15. Five plays later, having learned their lesson, the Trojans went back to the air and Fett hit Blankenship in the flat with a 3-yard touchdown pass.
“We got down there in the red zone a couple of times and every single time they were holding their ground,” Blankenship said. “We had to fight for every yard. I really think they were expecting the run because 90 percent of the time we run. It just caught them off guard. Their corner came up and left me wide open. Drew Fett threw a great pass.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Coleman Ellis fumbled the ball out of bounds at the 9-yard line. Bonner dropped to pass on first down, looked right, then threw back left and into the waiting hands of outside linebacker Andrew Sadie, who ran 13 yards untouched to the end zone.
“The pick down here, that was completely my fault,” Trinity coach Barry Loyal said, “because we didn’t really talk about working what side of the field before we went out and that’s on me.”
Brock Woodham had stopped a pair of Trinity drives earlier in the game with interceptions, but no play was bigger – or more costly to the Wildcats – than Sadie’s interception.
“He wasn’t even feeling good,” Blankenship said. “There’s a bunch of stuff going around. But he stepped up big and that just changed the momentum. It ended up winning the game for us.”
Trinity’s next drive was stymied by an interception and the next one was three and out before the Trojans threatened to ice the game. Loyal called a timeout with 1:53 remaining and the ball on the Trinity 2 and his pleas were answered on the next play when Coleman Morris knocked the ball loose from Alex Whisenhunt and the Wildcats recovered on the 4-yard line.
“We still kept plugging away all the way to the end,” Loyal said. “We talked about getting it on the ground and we got it on the ground.”
Four Bonner completions moved the ball to the St. James 40 with 45 seconds left but the Trojans finally caught the Trinity quarterback and forced a fumble to end the threat. Michael Shalayda sacked Bonner and knocked the ball loose and Bradley Woodham recovered to give St. James (9-1) its fourth consecutive win over Trinity.
“That’s huge,” said Blankenship, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles. “I think we’re the first to ever do it, so we can rub it in to all our brothers’ faces, our ex-teammates’. It’ll definitely be something to talk about for a while.”
Gavin finished with 102 yards on 33 carries to lead the Trojans, who play host to Oakman next week in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
Walton Cherry led Trinity (6-4) with 14 tackles, followed by Morris with 12 and Mays McMillan and James Davis with 11 each. The Wildcats hope to regain their momentum before facing Andalusia in the first round of the 4A playoffs next week at home.
“I think you always worry about that,” Loyal said, “but we’ve got 18 seniors. They’ve worked hard to get into the playoffs.”