By Scott Nickerson, Sports Writer
Senior Running Back Tre Duncan had the best game of his career as a Mustang in the biggest game of his career, rushing for over 200 yards and scoring four touchdowns as Stanhope Elmore won the school’s first football playoff game in nine seasons by a score of 35-13. The playoff win was the first in the head coaching career for Mustang’s Head Coach Brian Bradford. “God is good,” Bradford said after the game. “We have outstanding young men on this team. I’m proud to be their coach, and I’m proud for this team and this community.”
The Paul Bryant Stampede came into the game as the #3 seed from Class 6A Region 4, having lost only to Hueytown and Bessemer City, along with forfeiting the first game of the season to Central-Tuscaloosa. The Mustangs were one of only two teams this season to score more than 30 points against the Stampede.
The offensive game plan for Stanhope Elmore was clear from the opening drive, in which Duncan carried the ball nine times for 44 yards and a touchdown. The defensive game plan was the same as always, using the talented and unrelenting defensive line to pressure the quarterback on passing plays and stuff the run on rushes.
Paul Bryant found yards and first downs hard to come by through the first half. Midway through the 2nd quarter, after a chop block on 1st down, and a sack on 2nd down, the Stampede faced a 3rd and 37. Stanhope Elmore forced the punt and took over with great field position at the Stampede 38-yard line. Quarterback Andrew Rines had a 17-yard rush, and a few plays later Duncan carried it in from 4 yards out to put the Mustangs up by two touchdowns with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.
A fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by the Mustangs, and again Stanhope Elmore had excellent field position just 30 yards away from the end zone. A heavy dose of Duncan again ended with him scoring a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, his third of the first half, as the Mustangs took a commanding 21-0 lead into the break.
Stanhope Elmore did not let up to start the 3rd quarter, holding Paul Bryant to a three and out, and quickly getting the ball back. On the Mustangs’ first offensive play in the second half, Duncan rushed for 28 yards. A few plays later, quarterback Andrew Rines found wide receiver Conner Bradford for a 25-yard touchdown. The extra point pushed the Mustangs lead to 28-0.
To their credit, the Stampede did not go away quietly, and instead fought back and tried to make a game out of it, scoring touchdowns in the 3rd quarter on a lateral pass to a receiver that found an open target alone in the secondary, and a second touchdown on a fake field goal attempt.
The Mustangs’ defense regained their dominance in the 4th quarter, not allowing any more scoring opportunities, and also making key takeaways. TJ Jackson forced a Paul Bryant fumble inside their own 10-yard line, and it was recovered by Martin Toby and returned to the 3-yard line, setting up Duncan’s fourth rushing touchdown on the night, to conclude the scoring at 35-13.
Although there was no more scoring, the Mustangs were not done setting records, with defensive back Jeremy Thompson intercepting a Paul Bryant pass in the final minute of the game. It was Thompson’s 7th interception of the season, and the 13th of his career, setting the All-Time Record at Stanhope Elmore for interceptions in a career, a very impressive statistic considering the talent that has roamed the secondary for the Mustangs in the 55 years they have fielded a football team. When asked about the reasons that have led to his record-setting performance, Thompson was quick to give credit to his teammates and coaches. “The defensive line gets a lot of pressure on the quarterback and forces them to get rid of the ball quickly, and I try to take advantage of it and get to the ball first. Coach Adams helps, always making sure we are in the right position.”
With the win, the Mustangs are 9-2 on the season. Rines passed for his 9th touchdown of the season, his 16th overall. Duncan rushed the ball 37 times for 214 yards and four touchdowns, bringing his season total for touchdowns to 11.
The Mustangs now advance to the 2nd round of the Class 6A playoffs and will travel to Montgomery to play in the Cramton Bowl against the Park Crossing Thunderbirds, the #4 seed out of Region 4. In the biggest upset of the season, Park Crossing traveled to Saraland in the 1st round of the Class 6A Playoffs and defeated the top ranked team in Class 6A. Although the Thunderbirds are only 4-7 on the season, their non-region schedule was likely the most difficult in the state, taking on Class 7A powers Central-Phenix City and Auburn High, as well as Class 6A powerhouse St. Paul’s of Mobile. Simply put, this team is much better than their record, and the previously unbeaten Saraland Spartans will be the first to attest to that.
Kickoff for the 2nd round of the Class 6A playoffs will be at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, November 15, at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. With the win, the Mustangs would advance to the quarter-finals of the Class 6A playoffs. Support the Mustangs as they seek to continue their season in a historic venue in downtown Montgomery.