It seemed the stage was set for the Lions to defeat Daphne, win one more game, and advance to the 6A finals at Legion Field and perhaps face mighty Hoover.
Alas and alack, it was not to be.
Daphne, helped by DL Jeremy Clark and veteran head coach Steve Savarese, came into Stanley Jensen stadium in Prattville and took a come-from-behind, 17-14 win over Prattville to end the Lions' season and cause many tears on the field and in the stands by the hometown faithful.
Clark, a 6-4, 270 pound DL who plays mainly at end for DHS but projects as a DT in college, had an up and down game but came through when he needed to. Early on, his assistant coaches screamed at him, "Clark! You got the quarterback!" after the elusive Tagger squirmed into the end zone from 14 yards out. Later, Jeremy would block a Lion punt to set his team up in the red zone.
"I thought we blocked him pretty well at point of attack, but he hurt us on plays away," said Bill Clark of Jeremy Clark (no relation). "He caught us from behind too much."
Savarese, whose team scored with under six minutes to go, wasn't in the mood to acknowledge individuals choosing instead to call it a game that "was all about team." The veteran mentor, who coached the likes of Cornelius Bennett in his days at Ensley, uses Clark also on the offensive line in spots. "We've got some formations we use him (on offense)," said Savarese. "He comes in near the goal line and on short yardage."
Clark probably needs a redshirt season as a true freshman to add lower body bulk, but he shows good lateral movement and is athletic enough to drop into coverage in zone blitz situations. Jeremy will decide between Alabama and LSU and most like the Tide's chances here.
FNL has seen hundred of high school football games, but this was one of the finest. It sounds cliche, but this matchup was one where it truly was sad that someone had to lose.
To the categeories:
SENIORS WHO SHINED: For Prattville, which we featured some weeks back, not much has changed personnel wise. Clark and Tatum had fine senior seasons, and Randy Anderson is a tough cookie for the lions. He laid the wood to one Daphne receiver on a pass across the middle that won't be forgotten soon, and he acted as though he was trotting off the field late only to turn up and catch a fake punt pass to convert a 4th and 23 and keep the Lions' hope alive on a final drive.
Daphne, like Prattville, is a senior-laden squad. A few we noticed were FB Phillip Sledge (6-1, 200), LB Robert DuBose (6-3, 240), LB Adrian Thomas (6-0, 230), and CB Gerald Reed (5-11, 175). Reed, especially, caught our eye and we're wondering why we haven't heard more about this fine cover corner.
JUNIORS TO WATCH: Steven Albert again played well in the secondary for Prattville, and his name will come up next year in recruiting talk.
For the Trojans, we picked out OL Nick Ikner (6-3, 250), WR Gilbert Forrest (6-3, 190), and OLB/DE Mizraim Farley (6-2, 215). Farley is an end this year at DHS, but projects at OLB in college. He's a hitter with a nose for the pigskin. Forrest has good hands, height and makes big plays, several of which the Lions had just as soon forget. His 47 yard TD reception in the third quarter cut Prattville's lead to 14-10 and put the Trojans in a position to make their comeback. He is not afraid to go over the middle.
The Trojans also received a good second half effort from DL Brett Granger. We did not pick out any sophs or frosh this week, but did name a pair from the Lions in our previous story on Kyle Tatum, which can be seen in the archives.
BRANDON BROOKS AWARD: We considered making Tagger our only repeat winner, but instead decided to go with DHS senior RB Lee Baker,who is very generously listed at 5-10, 175 but is nowhere near that, at least height-wise. Baker is a slasher who will play somewhere at the next level.
DAVID PALMER AWARD: We haven't had this one all year, but Tagger deserves his own trophy. Derron is maybe 5-8 in spikes, quick, cuts on a dime and rarely if ever goes down on the first lick. He's not a quarterback in the true sense, but is so athletic the only question is what position he'll play at the next level. Coach Clark says Tagger has offers from Jacksonville State, UAB and Louisville, and is beginning to hear from some SEC schools as his grades rise during his senior season. Tagger and Jeremy Clark had some interesting duels on the Lions' bread and butter option play, with each player winning his share. Whomever signs this "quick as a hiccup" player is getting a guy who is a threat to take it to the "house" every time he touches the ball. At the collegiate level, Tagger will likely be a dangerous kickoff and punt returner and probably a fine wide receiver.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: It hung on the Prattville side of the stadium which, like one up the road from it, is now called "The Jungle."
The sign spoke of Daphne's uniforms and read, "Purple...man, thats gay." Didn't work.
HIGH SPIRITS: Its fairly common for the home team to have a group of students and fans make two lines for players to run on the field through at the start of the game. On this night, both teams got to enter through "spirit lines." Hundreds of purple and gold clad Daphne fans were on hand to welcome their heroes.
HOW BOUT THAT RIBEYE: Anyone who is familiar with the Prattville area at all knows about Buck's. This fine steakhouse with a hunting theme serves 'em up anyway you like 'em and features a special dusting called "gunpowder." This gives the steaks a unique taste and its recipe is top-secret. What we do know is its made by a Mr. Ellis in rural north Alabama and shipped to Bucks for a pretty penny. We had a ribeye which was cooked just as we ordered it (medium) and the dusting only enhanced this fine, char-grilled juicy piece of meat. The baked potato came out so hot we had to wait for it to cool as the butter melted, and when we asked for bacon bits we were brought out freshly-cooked bacon strips. You don't get that everywhere! The salad and sweet tea were cool and hit the spot and we got great service from Tia, who doubles as an AUM student. We would rank Buck's as the top steakhouse in area code 334, and right behind The Boar's Butt in Winfield for state honors.
MALE BONDING: You don't see a lot of male cheerleaders in Alabama high school football, but Prattville's got 'em. This proves especially helpful when its time to toss those mini-footballs and spirit cups high into the stands, into the eager waiting hands of fans.
NEXT WEEK: Its down to the final four in each classification in Alabama' s high school playoffs, and one athletic squad we've not seen yet is the Huffman Vikings of head coach Curtis Coleman. HHS features a lethal combo of size and athleticism, and could be the team that eliminates juggernaut Hoover when the Bucs visit Friday night. We'll look especially closely at mammoth OL Jeffery Allen of Huffman, who is drawing SEC attention at 6-4, 300-plus. We'll also take a second look at the state's top junior, Hoover WR Chad Jackson. We regret that we were unable to profile Aliceville's star DL Henry Smith or Wilcox Central's Tide commitment OLB Chris Browder, but both saw their teams eliminated last week.