Red Devils Last Team Standing
By Wil Crews
The twilight of high school football season in Alabama is here and last Friday’s games resulted in the end the journey for a few area teams.
The Lanett Panthers fell to the Highland Home Flying Squadron, Opelika was eliminated by Hueytown and the Central Phenix City Red Devils ousted the Auburn High Tigers.
The Red Devils now advance to the AHSAA Class 7A state championship to face the Thompson Warriors.
Lanett and Opelika’s seasons came to an end in the quarterfinals of the 2A and 6A playoffs, respectively; Auburn bowed out in the semifinals round of head coach Keith Etheredge’s first year at the helm of the Tigers.
Here is how things shook out in the third round of the playoff last weekend.
CENTRAL VS. AUBURN
In what was perhaps the most highly anticipated matchup of the Alabama high school football playoffs, the Central Phenix City Red Devils orchestrated a second-half comeback to defeat the Auburn High Tigers 28-17 at Garrett-Harrison Stadium on Friday.
Central quarterback Caleb Nix scored two rushing touchdowns in the second half and defender Tomarrion Parker returned an Auburn fumble for a score to seal the game for the Red Devils.
The two teams were locked in a defensive battle early, with both teams scoring on their second drives before falling into a field position battle until later in the first half. With the score at 7-3 in favor of the Red Devils, the Tigers capitalized on dropped passes and missed opportunities by the Central offense to take a 10-7 lead off of a 10-yard catch by tight end Cam Etheredge with 6:28 remaining in the second quarter.
The Tigers extended their first half lead to 17-7 with another Etheredge touchdown, this time a 3-yard rush just before the halftime break.
The second half story was much different, however, as the Tigers’ offense slowed and the Red Devils capitalized on some timely scrambles from Nix. The junior’s first half struggles (started the game 1-for-7 passing) turned into second half success as Nix completed 8-of-20 passes in the third and fourth quarters to finish with a stat line of 130 yards passing and one touchdown through the air.
Nix added a 3-yard rushing touchdown with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter to make the score 17-14, and found pay dirt on a 54-yard run with 7:10 in the fourth quarter to take a 21-17 lead.
A shutout second half effort by the Central defense was capped off with the game’s final score, a scoop-n-score fumble recovery with 6:49 remaining in the final quarter. Junior Auburn quarterback Clyde Pittman finished his 2021 season with a 17-for-23, 149-yard, one touchdown and one interception performance. Junior Central receiver Marquevious Terry caught the first touchdown of the game. Auburn finished the season (10-3) in Etheredge’s first season and fall one game short of where it finished in 2020, the Class 7A state championship. The Red Devils (13-0) will play Thompson (12-1) in the AHSAA Class 7A State Championship on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at Protective Stadium in Birmingham.
LANETT VS. HIGHLAND HOME
The Lanett Panthers (10-3) lost 15-14 to the Highland Home Flying Squadron (8-5) in the AHSAA Class 2A quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Following a scoreless first quarters, Highland Home struck first in the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead. The Lanett defense answered in a big way with a scoop-n-score fumble recovery for touchdown with three minutes remaining in the half. The Panthers failed the two-point conversion after the score and the Flying Squadron entered the locker room with a 7-6 lead at the break.
Much like the first half, the second half of the contest was dominated by defense. Lanett broke through with five minutes remaining in the third quarter via a touchdown pass.
This time, the Panthers converted their two-point conversion to reestablish their lead at 14-7. Highland Home responded with nine minutes remaining in the game with a rushing touchdown. Instead of playing it safe and attempting to make a PAT to tie the game, the Flying Squadron attempted and converted a two-point conversion which proved to be the game’s final points. From there, the Highland Home defense did what was necessary for the Flying Squadron to advance to the Class 2A semifinals with a narrow win over the Panthers.
In head coach Clifford Story’s 12th season in charge, Lanett’s 2021 season ends in the same spot it did in 2020, the state quarterfinals. Highland Home advanced to face Clarke County (11-2) in the next round, needing just one more victory to clinch a berth in the state championship game.
OPELIKA VS. HUEYTOWN
For more on the Bulldogs’ game versus the Flying Squadron, read D. Mark Mitchell’s recap on B1.