Friday Night Lights: Finals edition

BIRMINGHAM-- Its funny how we can get all fired up about going to see a particular player but, every now and then, come away more impressed with another. That's exactly what happened while compiling our final 2002 edition of FNL. We came to see Terrence "Tyrone" Prothro of Cleburne County try and help his team to a 4A state title at Legion Field. What we saw was unheralded Matt Pierce lead his team to a perfect season.

Funny thing is, we were not unimpressed with Prothro. The 5-10, 175 junior TB/WR/FS/KR and part-time QB had a nice game. Not as nice as the previous four rounds of the playoffs, where he'd reached the endzone at least once per contest but still he fared okay against UMS. Prothro was held to nine carries for 25 yards rushing, but caught two balls for 12 yards, threw a 14 yard TD pass on his only aerial, returned three punts for 29 yards and ran back two kickoffs for 55 yards, including a 32-yarder. In all, Tyrone accounted for one touchdown (albeit through the air) and 135 yards, 121 of it carrying or catching the football. He also played a fair game at FS. UMS did not try as hard as other teams to kick away from Prothro, and it didn't hurt them, despite his sub 4.5 40 time.

"They got after a might fine ... back tonight," said UMS head coach Terry Curtis after his team's 28-12 win. "We had to know where he was all the time. Lord, he's a good one."

Many project Prothro on the defensive side of the ball in college, where his head coach Michael Shortt says, "We only have to put him in when people start the ball. Through the whole season, he's probably played the equivalent of one whole game on defense, and he still has eight interceptions.

"He's got good quickness. He had a 39 and a half inch vertical jump at Alabama's camp. He benches 360; great strength. He has quick hands. Tall receivers don't bother him because he's got such a good vertical jump."

Agreed. But when CCHS uses Tyrone on "D" its mostly as a nickel back/free safety. And even though he tried to help his corners contain title game MVP Matt Pierce of UMS-Wright, there was little the Tigers could do with the senior Bulldog. Pierce, (6-2, 175), is hearing from the likes of LSU, Tulane and Southern Miss according to Curtis, who added vehemently about Pierce's five catches for 91 yards and two TDs: "That's been all year. If Alabama and Auburn don't offer that kid, something's wrong. Every time we've needed a big play, he's made it."

In addition to his receiving totals, Pierce had three rushes on reverses for 21 yards, returned two kickoffs for 50, and one punt for eight. That's 170 all-purpose yards. We agree with Curtis: somebody's gonna get 'em a good 'un. To the categories:

CRIMSON CONNECTION: Plenty in this contest, to be sure. UA freshman DE Todd Bates is a Cleburne County grad and was on the sidelines to support his ex-mates. His position coach, Stan Eggen, also made the trip up from T-town to check out the talent (Shortt had told us pre-game he expected both Bates and Eggen). Former All-SEC center Roger Shultz was on hand to do sideline commentary for the telecast. Also, it should be noted that two former Tide offensive linemen are assistant coaches on teams playing for state titles: Brenon Meadows is on Rush Propst's staff at 6A Hoover, which played Daphne and Jeremy Clark Saturday, and Kelvis White is on Bob Newton's Homewood staff that faced Benjamin Russell for the 5A trophy Friday.

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: A female game official had never called a Super Six game until Joey Martin took the field for the 4A contest. Ms. Martin hails from Opelika and served as back judge. Congrats are in order.

SENIORS WHO SHINED: Pierce's passes came from quarterback Barry Ballard (5-11, 170) and were on the money. tailback Johnny Strada (5-11, 185) ran hard for UMS. Defensive back Bruner Binion (5-11, 160) had an interception and punted well. Matt Weinstein (6-2, 182) was solid at tight end, and Curran Foose (6-1, 215) laid the wood to several Tigers from his LB spot.

For Heflin (as CCHS is commonly called), linebacker Tabarius Brown (6-0, 175) had a key pick and some nice tackles. Defensive lineman Felix Brown (6-3, 340) is a large fellow who takes up space versus the run. Richard Cantrell (6-1, 205) is a hard-charging fullback who scored twice and had another called back. Jerray Wilson (6-1, 185) played well at outside linebacker, as did tight end/punter Landon Brown (6-0, 195).

JUNIORS TO WATCH: There's another Prothro, related to Tyrone, who is a fine defender for CCHS, and that would by defensive end Lucas (6-2, 225). Shalamar Heard (5-10, 180) had an up and down night at cornerback with a pair of PBU's but also getting beat a few times by Pierce. (Matt also victimized Tyrone on an out-and-up pump fake.)

UMS featured outside linebacker Carter Miller (5-10, 205), a hard hitter, along with big defensive lineman/offensive lineman Bowdoin Atchison (6-2, 260). Defensive end Will Denniston (6-3, 220) had a key sack. Wide receiver Ashley Wright (6-3, 160) grabbed a 35-yard pass from Ballard to keep a drive alive.

SUPER SOPHS: UMS is a senior/junior-dominated squad, but Heflin will get two more seasons from outside linebacker Justin Bearden (6-2, 190) who constantly pressured the QB and caused a fumble. David Diggs (5-11, 185) already strikes the ball with authority at placekicker. Richard Blake is a bit raw at corner, but the 5-8, 150 pounder will grow taller and stronger.

HOW BOUT THEM BURGERS: The hot dogs in Legion Field's pressbox were a bit warmer than usual but we chose to pause and reflect on several stops we 've made in the past (and will make in the future) at Pop's Charburgers. Located just off I-20 in Heflin, the burgers are (you guessed it) char-grilled to perfection, the onion rings crisp, and the milk shakes are thick enough to "last you 'till Six Flags" as Ron Ingram of the Birmingham News put it.

BEST GRAPHIC: You never know what they'll flash on the scoreboard at Legion Field, but we found it rather humorus when, after Bearden's forced fumble by the Tiger quarterback on which Justin struck from the blind side, a cartoon of a deer in some headlights came up with the caption, "He never saw it coming." Heh.

NEXT TIME: This concludes the 2001 season for Friday Night Lights, but give us a week or so and we'll come up with an All-FNL squad of sorts. Also, we'll scout Tide hoops signees Emmett Thomas, Chuck Davis and Evan Brock between now and March.

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