Photo: Coosa Christian’s Josh Hester finds a gap in the Leroy defense during the Conquerors’ 28-21 loss in the Class 1A state football title game on Thursday, Dec. 7 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Coosa Christian gave defending state champion Leroy all it could handle on Thursday, Dec. 7, but the Conquerors’ penchant for ill-timed penalties along with a crucial replay review did not help their cause in a 28-21 loss in the Class 1A state football title game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Coosa was whistled for five of its six infractions in the second half, losing valuable yardage in a contest that allowed little margin for error.
“In the first half, we didn’t have a lot of penalties and we stayed in good shape,” said Coosa Christian head coach Mark O’Bryant. “But when you start getting flagged and flagged, it really starts to hurt you and it’s really hard to overcome. That was our Achilles heel since the beginning of the year, and it showed tonight. We just didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The replay review occurred with the Bears leading 21-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
Grant Morgan blocked a Leroy punt and Kylen Johnson recovered in the end zone. The play was ruled a safety on the field before game officials elected for a review. It was eventually decided that Johnson had covered the ball for a touchdown. Jadan Burns then pushed through the extra point to tie the game.
Without the reversal, the Conquerors (9-6) would have trailed by five points but gotten the ball back following a free kick, providing Coosa an opportunity to put together an extended possession and keep the Leroy offense off the field.
As it turned out, it was the Bears who engineered an eight-play, 61-yard series that drained 4:25 off the game clock and resulted in Ja’Kavien Collins’ 1-yard TD run.
“We wanted a safety,” O’Bryant said. “We would have been down five [points] and gotten the ball at the 40 or near the 50 with five minutes or seven minutes to go. I liked our chances. To be honest with you, I wish they hadn’t reviewed it.”
The Conquerors ended up getting the ball back with 2:01 remaining in the fourth quarter with one timeout left. Starting at its own 24-yard line, Coosa managed three yards in four plays, with John David Justus’ final pass of the night falling incomplete on a fourth down and seven.
“I believe our defense was getting a little tired,” said O’Bryant. “It’s really difficult with [Leroy’s] type of athletes, because you can’t exploit the deep ball. Not moving the chains (late in the game) hurt us, too. But give [Leroy] credit; they did what they had to do to win the game.”
With 1:09 remaining, the Bears (14-0) took three straight knees to win their second straight state title while ending the Conquerors’ 13-game on-the-field winning streak.
The victory also extended Leroy’s winning streak to 20 in a row. The Bears have won seven state titles over the past 19 seasons.
“I’m thankful for the run we had,” said O’Bryant. “I’m just really proud of our guys. They may not have gotten the win tonight, but they got the win on life, and that’s a whole lot more important than anything that happens on the ball field.”
For Coosa, Wilson had 18 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns, while Josh Hester added 24 yards on eight carries. Justus was 8 for 15 in passing for 51 yards. Johnson, Morgan and Eli Motes each had three catches. Clete O’Bryant led the way defensively with a game-high 14 tackles along with an interception. Hester and Cade Mickler each had six tackles, followed by D.J. Mackey with five. Radley Mays had a sack.
The Conquerors had Leroy back on its heels for much of the first quarter, converting two Bear turnovers into 14 points.
After Coosa’s game-opening 40-yard, 13-play drive ended on a missed field goal attempt, the Conquerors recovered a fumble seven plays into the Bears’ first series. Four plays later, Wilson took it to the house from 38 yards out, and Burns converted the PAT attempt for a 7-0 lead at 2:34.
The Coosa defense came up big on the ensuing Leroy drive, which ended after three plays on an interception by Clete O’Bryant. Wilson polished off the ensuing seven-play 22-yard series with a 2-yard touchdown run. Burns nailed the PAT for a 14-0 advantage 29 seconds into the second quarter.
The playoff-seasoned Bears, however, were not about to fold their tents, scoring a pair of touchdowns on their next two possessions.
Following Wilson’s second TD, Taylor Crumedy returned the kickoff 82 yards to the Conqueror 1, where Collins scored to pull Leroy within 14-7.
Coosa went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Bears drove 75 yards in nine plays to set up Crumedy’s 2-yard scoring run. The Conquerors responded with an 11-play, 36-yard series that made it to the Bear 27 before Leroy recovered a fumble to send the game into halftime tied 14-14.
Both defenses stepped up during the third quarter. The Conquerors held on a pair of fourth down conversion attempts, while Leroy stopped Coosa short on fourth down and forced a short punt that set up the Bears at their own 34. Leroy made it to the Coosa 33, where on a fourth down and 18 quarterback Brayden Huebner hit receiver JaQuan Scott in stride for the touchdown. Rob Moseley made the PAT to put Leroy ahead 21-14 nine seconds into the fourth quarter.
The next Coosa possession lasted six plays until Jason Byrd picked off a pass in the end zone and returned it to the Bear 13. The Conquerors held the Bears to two yards in three plays, forcing the punt that Morgan blocked and Johnson recovered for a game-tying touchdown.
Collins led Leroy with 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Huebner ran 17 times for 79 yards and completed 10-of-20 passes for 117 yards.
“I work seven days a week, in and out of season, and I expect the same thing from these guys,” said Mark O’Bryant. “We can’t ever get complacent. A win or a loss does not define who you are, it’s being complacent that does. That goes for coaches and players; you have to fight on. It’s not an option. If you lose the eye of the tiger, you might as well find a new profession.”