Tuscaloosa, Ala.--With the game on the line and one yard standing between his team and a state championship and just under a minute remaining, Spanish Fort Coach Ben Blackmon never hesitated putting the ball in the hands of his senior quarterback Tyler Johnston and once again he delivered when it mattered most. Grinding out a first down around midfield, Johnston cemented himself as one of the winningest quarterbacks in state history with a 31-28 victory over previously undefeated and defending state champion Clay-Chalkville.
The 6A title was the second in three seasons for Johnston as the starting quarterback at Spanish Fort and pushed his career record as a starter to a perfect 35-0. Finishing the game 13-23 through the air for 187 yards and two touchdowns while adding 79 yards on the ground and another score, Johnston and the Toros held off a late charge from a very game Clay-Chalkville squad to get the win.
Also undefeated in his career heading into the game Tyrrell Pigrome had a huge night for the Cougars, completing 17-32 passes for 214 yards and three scores and also added 124 yards and another touchdown on the ground. But that wasn’t enough to overtake a Spanish Fort team focused on the title behind its leader.
“The game was on the line and we just said we were going to ride the horse that brought us,” Blackmon said. “We gave it to 17 and he got the first down. It’s just special, immensely special. Coach Bill Clark and UAB are getting one heck of a football player. He’s a competitor, he can throw it, he can run it, he’s a winner.”
With his brother and Opelika Coach Brian Blackmon watching from the sidelines after the two faced off against each other two weeks ago in the quarterfinals, Ben Blackmon said it was good to finally get over the hump. Part of teams that got close while coaching at Opelika, he said it’s hard to put into words finally winning one.
“I have been to the semifinals as an assistant and the quarterfinals as a player,” he said. “This is the farthest I have ever been. I’m just happy.”
What had the makings of an offensive shooting between two explosive teams turned into a defensive struggle by today’s standards in the first half. It took a special teams mistake by Clay-Chalkville for Spanish Fort to get on the board first however as on fourth and eight from their own 33 the Cougars snapped the ball over the head of punter C.C. VanWinkle. He was forced to fall on the ball on his own three-yard line and the Toros made them pay with Tyler Johnston plunging over from two yards for the game’s first score.
Keeping Pigrome and the high-powered Clay-Chalkville offense in check Spanish Fort got the ball back late in the first quarter at its own 39 and started the most impressive drive of the first half. Grinding out two first downs the Toros faced a second and 11 at the Clay-Chalkville 35 when Thomas made his first big play of the game. Sweeping left the speedster raced down the sidelines before being run out of bounds at the three. Three plays later Javon Brown raced around left end for the touchdown and a 14-0 Spanish Fort lead.
It looked like the Toros might run away with this one as the Cougars faced a third and 30 on their next possession from their own 48, but that’s when Alabama commitment T.J. Simmons made his presence known. Catching the short pass on the right side the big receiver crossed the width of the field picking up blocks along the way until he crossed the goal line for a huge 52-yard touchdown.
With the momentum Clay-Chalkville finally made a defensive play as Johnston’s pass was picked off by Armoni Holloway on the next drive to keep the Cougars fired up. Taking over on its own 35 Clay-Chalkville proceeded to go backwards as Spanish Fort’s front dominated the line of scrimmage. The big play came on third down as big junior Justin Thomas sacked Pigrome to force a punt.
Ty Pigrome breaks loose for big yardage against Spanish Fort
Getting the ball back around midfield the Toros drove inside the Clay-Chalkville 10 for a first and goal situation, but the Cougar defense stiffened to force a field goal. Holding a 17-7 lead at intermission Spanish Fort got back to work early in the second half and when Johnston hit Brown for a short touchdown pass it looked like this one was all but over, but Pigrome was yet to get untracked.
Breaking loose for a 51-yard run on the next possession to cut the lead to 10, Pigrome cut the lead down to just three when his 10-yard pass to junior sensation Nico Collins went for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Instead of sitting on the lead Spanish Fort turned Johnston loose and he delivered with a huge 71-yard pass to Brown to set the Toros up in scoring position. On the next play he again went to Brown and their 17-yard connection put Spanish Fort up by 10.
That lead held up until late in the game when Clay-Chalkville went into a two-minute offense and Pigrome came through with a 75-yard drive on nine plays in just over two minutes to make it a three-point game. Instead of an onside kick the Cougars kicked deep to Spanish Fort with 3:12 on the clock and two timeouts, but they never saw the ball again as Johnston ran the ball six times for 21 yards and two first downs to salt the game away.