It has been a long 25 years since the Central High Red Devils made it to the championship game at the end of a season. It has been 25 seasons, 295 games, since the Red Devils claimed the Class 6A title at Legion Field in Birmingham. Central won the game 12-7 over West End High of Birmingham. It was the last Class 6A championship game played before the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced the creation of the Super 6.
Next week, on Wednesday evening, Central will head back to the championship game again. This time the game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Thompson High of Alabaster – a team led by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, brother of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
As I watched the Red Devils win last week’s semifinal game with R.E. Lee, I thought to myself that it was almost as exciting – yes, almost as exciting – as the semifinal game Central played in 1993 against Enterprise High. Central won in overtime against Enterprise 21-20. That was without a doubt the most exciting finish to a game I had ever seen. This year’s game came close, but did not quite match 1993.
In 1993, Central and Enterprise tied in regulation 14-14. Central should have won in regulation, but too many mistakes hurt those chances. And in overtime, the game and the Red Devils’ season came down to one play – the very last play possible in the first overtime.
Against Enterprise, Central drove to the Wildcats’ 2 and fumbled away a scoring opportunity. Calvin Crowell intercepted a Wildcats’ pass at their 42 and returned it to the 1-yard line. Actually, Crowell dove into the end zone from the 3-yard line, but was ruled down at the 1. I still do not understand that call. I also cannot believe the Red Devils failed to score from there. But, the drive saw a penalty for delay of game to start it off, a short run, two incomplete passes and a missed 24-yard field goal attempt.
In overtime, which begins with the football placed at the 10-yard line, Central was flagged for a 5-yard penalty to start. Steven Kelley, who had 152 yards against the Red Devils in regulation, scored on a 5-yard run on the first play of the overtime. Central’s Adrian Lyles came up with a big play on the extra point attempt with a block. Central trailed 20-14 as it stepped on the field for its overtime chance.
Central’s Daniel Kirkland ran for three yards on first down. Enterprise was hit with a penalty that moved the ball to the 3-yard line. Ike Parham ran two yards to the 1 on second down. Kirkland then dove over the top and appeared to score, but officials ruled him down inches from the end zone. As Central lined up for fourth down, it was hit with a 5-yard penalty that moved the ball back to the 6. On fourth down, quarterback Griff Gordy rolled to the left and threw high to Shedrick Dixon, who out jumped two Enterprise defenders to catch the ball to tie the game. Gordy then kicked the extra point to give Central the victory. Garrett-Harrison Stadium shook as fans celebrated the win to send Central to its first-ever state championship game.
I had never seen anything like it.
Last Friday night, the ending to the game was almost as exciting.
After just tying the game at 27-27 with a 6-yard run by Joseph McKay and the extra point kick by Noah Pell, Central’s leading rusher this season A’Montae Spivey collapsed on the sideline. The senior Arkansas commit was hyperventilating. He could not seem to relax and settle down. As he was being carted away to an awaiting ambulance, Spivey asked for his head coach and asked him to relay a message to his teammates to “go win this thing.” DuBose delivered the message and the teammates took the words to heart.
Taking over on offense with 54.4 seconds to play at its own 25, Central quarterback and LSU commit Peter Parrish ran for 5 yards. The clock ran. Parrish then ran for 11 yards. The clock stopped for the chains to be reset on a first down. McKay ran for seven yards. The clock was ticking away. Parrish threw a 3-yard pass to Peter Jakes for another first down with 25.1 seconds to play and the Red Devils were at the R.E. Lee 49. Next play, Parrish throws what appears to be a perfect pass to Kameron Mason along the Central sideline. The ball slipped through his hands and the clock stopped with 18.5 seconds left to play. Then, on second down from the Generals’ 49, Parrish went back to Mason over the middle. The ball went 19 yards in the air and Mason made the catch. Once he had the ball secure, Mason ran the final 30 yards to the end zone for the winning touchdown with 8.4 seconds left on the scoreboard clock. But after Pell made the extra point, Central still had to kickoff and defend against the Generals’ offense until the final second ticked away. There was only one offensive play – a Hail Mary pass attempt. The pass was intercepted and the Central celebration began.
It was an exciting end to the game, but not as exciting as in 1993 when the last pass by the Red Devils had their season riding on a catch. Had the Red Devils not scored on the play last Friday, the two teams would have then gone into overtime and anything could have happened. I am sure the Red Devils are thankful for the way things ended. I know their fans are.
Now, on to Auburn, to finish what they started – win a state title and become only the second team in school history to finish a season undefeated and untied since 1944’s team went 9-0. Then a great season becomes legendary.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.