On a frigid Wednesday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Central Red Devils warmed the hearts of their fans and brought home to Phenix City the football program’s first state championship in a quarter century.
And they did it in dominating fashion, completing their first undefeated and untied season in 74 years.
The Red Devils, ranked No. 1 in Alabama Class 7A, trounced the No. 2 Thompson Warriors 52-7.
Central finished the year 14-0, Thompson 11-2.
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Central won the 1993 Class 6A state championship with a 12-7 victory over West End. Thompson won the 1982 Class 3A state championship with a 14-11 victory over Oxford.
The only other time the Red Devils finished their football season undefeated and untied was in 1944, when Alabama didn’t have a state playoff to determine champions.
This was the first time Central and Thompson played each other in football.
Central senior quarterback Peter Parrish (committed to LSU) was selected as the game’s MVP. He rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries and completed 5 of 9 passes for 78 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
Senior running back A’montae Spivey (committed to Arkansas) added 78 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries, sophomore running back Joseph McKay rushed for 47 yards and one touchdown on six carries, and junior running back Dexter Wright gained 26 yards on two carries.
Senior wide receiver D.J. Rias had three catches for 28 yards, as well as a 67-yard kickoff return to open the game and set the tone for Central. Spivey added two catches for 40 yards and junior wide receiver E.J. Williams caught a 24-yards touchdown pass.
Leading the Central defense with five tackles each were senior outside linebacker Marquez Henry (14-yard interception return for touchdown, one sack), senior linebacker Trevon Miller (8-yard fumble return for touchdown), junior safety Michael Harris and senior cornerback Damon Jones.
Backup quarterback Tucker Melton, a junior, scored Central’s final touchdown on a 9-yard run. Sophomore kicker Noal Pell converted all seven extra points and made a 28-yard field goal.
Central head coach Jamey DuBose, in his fifth season in Phenix City, said the key to breaking through after the Red Devils lost to McGill-Toolen in the state semifinals the previous three seasons wasn’t having better schemes but being better players and better coaches and better people.
“These guys gave me their heart tonight,” he said. “… We’ve got some great football players. And not only that, we’ve got some great guys. We’ve got some great talent. We’ve got great kids – and just proud to have them.”
Central outgained Thompson 406 to 293 in total yards.
“We just wanted to dominate, and we just wanted to come out and prove who we were,” DuBose said. “There were a lot of questions.”
The team’s motto this year was “Finish,” DuBose said.
“We knew we had to get the job done this year,” Spivey said.
“We just left empty every year,” DuBose said. “It hurt. We wanted to finish something. … We wanted to teach them as adults growing up and everything else, if you start something, finish it. And, man, these guys finished it tonight.”
Parrish praised the offensive line.
“They played lights out,” he said. “I mean, I couldn’t’ ask for anything more from them.”
Henry gave credit to the defensive line for helping him get that pick-6.
“They rushed the quarterback quick,” he said.
The Red Devils didn’t do anything fancy in this game. They ran four basic plays on offense, and the defense played man coverage with periodic blitzes, DuBose said.
“We felt like our pass rush, they couldn’t handle it,” he said. “... Our linebackers filled the holes very well, and we were able to get to them. Our speed on defense is just something a lot of people don’t know. I guarantee you we’re the fastest team in Alabama defensively.”
But the prevailing theme was redemption.
“For three years in a row, there was just continual doubt,” DuBose said. “… Walking off the field and hearing the negative talk – not by everybody but by some – and that’s what we try to talk to our players about. The negativity is what will corrupt a program. It will corrupt everything.”
That’s why the players and coaches relied on each other, DuBose said.
“It was about us,” he said. “It was all about us. There are so many people that want to bring somebody down when they’ve got a chance to have something great. … Our only worst enemy this year was us. If we don’t just fight us, we’re in good shape. So, you know, we did that tonight. We shut everything out.”
Including the naysayers.
“Everybody thought that we couldn’t handle the big moment,” DuBose said. “These guys have been told everything. I hear it on the streets everywhere. I hear it at restaurants.”
So they used the doubt as motivation.
“These guys had something to prove,” DuBose said. “This senior class has had unbelievable leadership. … Last night in our meetings, we had a team meeting, tears were shed, hearts just laid out on the floor. It just meant so much.”
Then they produced an excellent performance in prime time.
“These guys just went out and played the game for themselves tonight,” DuBose said. “They wanted to do it for the community, but they did it for themselves too.”
Thompson senior running back Shadrick Byrd rushed for 161 yards on 24 carries, but the Red Devils contained Thompson senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (7-of-11 passing for 44 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, no rushing yards), who is committed to Alabama, where he would join older brother Tua.
Both head coaches have won state titles with other teams. DuBose won two in Class 6A with Prattville (2008 and 2011). Thompson coach Mark Freeman won two in Class 5A with Spanish Fort (2012 and 2013) and four in AISA Class AAA with Bessemer Academy (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007).
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.