Photo: Coosa Christian’s Kanon Wilson (22) and Kylen Johnson (1) celebrate one of Wilson’s five touchdowns as Eric Rhoden (52) looks on during the Conquerors’ 63-13 win over Hackleburg in the Class 1A state football quarterfinals on Nov. 24 in Gadsden. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Coosa Christian’s 2023 Unfinished Business Tour was extended by another week on Nov. 24 in Gadsden.
Facing Hackleburg in the Class 1A state football quarterfinals, the Conquerors administered a 63-13 thrashing to the Panthers to advance to the state semifinals for the second year in a row.
On Dec. 1, Coosa (8-5) will host Pickens County, the team that ended the Conquerors’ 2002 season with a 44-40 victory that was clinched by a controversial touchdown in the game’s final seconds.
Coosa dominated Hackleburg from start to finish, rolling up 476 total yards while limiting the Panthers to 181, including only 77 on the ground. When Hackleburg closed within 28-7 early in the third quarter, Coosa scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
Hackleburg’s loss ended an 11-game win streak for the Panthers, whose last defeat came in Week 1 to Class 3A Phil Campbell.
Junior halfback Kanon Wilson was the Conquerors’ bell cow de juer on offense, rushing for 192 yards and five touchdowns on only 11 carries.
John David Justus was 13 for 22 in passing for 173 yards. Kyle Johnson caught five passes for 48 yards, while Grayson Malone had four receptions for 83 yards and a score.
Clete O’Bryant finished with eight tackles, followed by Malone and Dylan Mackey with seven each and Cade Mickler with six. Three of Mackey’s tackles were for a loss. Radley Mayes had two sacks, while Johnson and Elie Motes each had an interception.
“I thought we played great on both sides of the ball tonight,” said Coosa Christian head coach Mark O’Bryant. “The special teams also did a great job in giving us good field position all night and not letting [Hackleburg] get big returns. What we’re blessed with is depth, and we’ve been really able to use that to our advantage in the playoffs. [Hackleburg] didn’t have as many players playing both ways as Lynn did (in Coosa’s 28-6 victory in the second round on Nov. 17), but in the second half you could tell that they were getting tired and we weren’t.”
The Coosa offense hit the ground running with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns,
A 41-yard pass completion from Justus to Malone on the game’s first play from scrimmage set up Josh Hester’s 3-yard touchdowns run at 9:15. Jadan Burns pushed through the first of his seven extra points.
After a short Hackleburg punt, the Conquerors took over at the Panther 45, a 25-yard completion from Justus to O’Bryant put the ball inside the Tigers 20, and two plays later Wilson hit pay dirt from 18 yards out for a 13-0 lead.
Hackleburg’s fourth straight punt quickly resulted in Wilson’s second TD of the night, a 71-yard jaunt that saw Wilson fumble the ball back to himself near midfield.
The next Conqueror drive ended in an interception, but the Panthers eventually came up short on a fourth down conversion attempt at the Coosa 44. The ensuing eight-play possession got the ball to the Panther 13, where Wilson took it in for the touchdown and a 28-0 advantage at halftime.
Hackleburg took the second half’s opening possession 48 yards for a touchdown. Sawyer Johnson’s 30-yard TD pass to Cameron Ingram and Carson Swinney’s PAT drew the Panthers within 21 points, but that turned out to be the high water mark for the visitors, as the Conquerors outscored the Panthers 35-6 the rest of the way.
Following an interception on Coosa’s first drive of the second half, the Conquerors returned the favor on the next play from scrimmage when D.J. Mackey hit Johnson in the backfield, forcing an errant throw. Motes picked off the pass attempt at the Conqueror 42 and ran it back for a touchdown.
O’Bryant ran back the next Hackleburg punt 48 yards to the Panther 7, where Wilson did the honors for a 42-7 lead at 7:25 of the third.
The Panthers proceeded to go three-and-out, and Coosa again made the visitors pay with Wilson’s 13-yard TD run. Hackleburg answered with Jaquan Reeder’s 57-yard touchdown run, but the Conquerors responded with Justus’ 30-yard TD pass to Malone.
Johnson’s interception a few minutes later led the Coosa’s final score, a 68-yard touchdown run by Joseph East that provided the hosts with a 50-point margin of victory.
“Someone told me earlier this week that the last Etowah County team to make back-to-back semifinals was Etowah (in 1998 and 1999), so this is pretty special, and I’m proud of our players and our coaches for that,” said Mark O’Bryant. “We’ll just take a little while to enjoy this [win] and get ready for Pickens County next week. It should be one heck of a game.”