By Scott Nickerson
5. Andrew Rines Touchdown Pass to Conner Bradford vs Wetumpka
On the road against Wetumpka in their biggest game to date, and winners of four consecutive games, the Mustangs held a slight lead over the Indians late in the 2nd half. Stanhope Elmore had come into the game knowing that they were going to run the ball against the Indians defense, and they had been successful doing so, but Wetumpka finally seemed to gain some momentum and stuffed a couple of rushes after the Mustangs moved the ball deep into Indians territory. That’s when Andrew Rines found Conner Bradford from 20-yards away for one of the most clutch touchdowns passes of the year. The Mustangs defense was able to do the rest, and Stanhope Elmore held on for a 28-20 victory, which was their third region win of the year.
4. Tre Duncan scores 4 Rushing Touchdowns in Class 6A Playoff Game vs Paul Bryant
Stanhope Elmore hosted their first home football playoff game in nine years as a result of finishing as the #2 seed in Class 6A Region 3. The Mustangs were paired up in the playoffs with the Paul Bryant Stampede out of Tuscaloosa. The Stampede were the #3 seed from Class 6A Region 4.
Mustangs Coach Brian Bradford determined prior to the game that his team had a decided advantage rushing the ball, so he utilized senior running back Tre Duncan to carry out the plan. Duncan finished with the best game of his Mustangs’ career, rushing for over 200 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns, leading Stanhope Elmore to their first Class 6A playoff win in nine seasons.
3. Jeremy Thompson Interception in Class 6A Playoff Game vs Paul Bryant
Although the outcome of the first-round playoff game was already decided in the Mustangs’ favor, Jeremy Thompson’s interception late in the 4th quarter was special for two reasons. First, it started a long-awaited celebration, signifying a return to relevance for a Stanhope Elmore football program that had not seen a playoff win since the current senior class was in 3rd grade. Second, with the interception, Thompson set the all-time record for interceptions in a career with 13. It was a feat that was recognized by the coaches and lauded for his personal accomplishment, which is all the more remarkable when considering that Thompson has intercepted more passes in a Stanhope Elmore uniform, than any other player in the 55-year history of the football program.
2. Andrew Rines Touchdown Pass to Conner Bradford in 2nd Round Playoff Game vs Park Crossing
The top two plays of the year were ranked in that position based on the degree of difficulty, as well as the importance to the Mustang’s season at that time. There was no more important and impactful time in the season than Stanhope Elmore’s matchup in the 2nd round of the Class 6A playoffs against the Park Crossing Thunderbirds at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. Although the Mustangs ultimately lost the game, it wasn’t for a lack of effort and talent, both of which were exhibited in fine display in two dramatic instances.
The Thunderbirds took a two score lead early in the 3rd quarter, moving ahead 28-19. With the Mustangs’ defense reeling early for one of the few times all season, it was on the offense to not only sustain a drive, but to put points on the board. That is exactly what they did.
Throughout the course of the season, the Mustangs had taken advantage of Bradford’s outstanding ball skills and body control, frequently throwing the ball to him deep down the sideline and trusting him to out jump or out-muscle the defender in single coverage. The Mustangs went back to this play again in the 3rd quarter, but this time, Bradford appeared to be a step slow to the ball, and the defender seemed to grab one arm to do what he could to prevent the receiver from making the catch. Bradford was undeterred and extended as far as possible with his right hand, tipping the ball up in the air and then using his momentum to catch up to the ball in the end zone, giving the Mustangs the touchdown. The play was outstanding, and the timing was critical, keeping the Mustangs within striking distance.
- Andrew Rines Touchdown Pass to Dalton Smith in 2nd Round Playoff Game vs Park Crossing
Following Bradford’s touchdown catch, the Thunderbirds were able to score another touchdown, again pushing the lead to 10 points, 35-25. Both teams traded turnovers as the minutes ticked away in the 4th quarter, but ultimately, the Mustangs were forced to punt the ball back to Park Crossing. With under six minutes left in the game and up by two scores, it appeared that the Thunderbirds had the game wrapped up. However, a turnover on their own 30-yard line gave the Mustangs renewed life.
Teams frequently try and go for a big play following a turnover, in an attempt to continue carrying on the momentum gained from the turnover. All the Mustang fans suspected that Rines was going to look for Bradford streaking down the field for the score. The Thunderbirds likely thought that as well, so Rines instead threw a deep ball to receiver Dalton Smith, who was in single coverage down at the goal line. The deep ball was perfectly placed high by Rines, who had to out-jump the defender to catch the ball. Watching the action live, it seemed sure that a flag was going to be thrown for pass interference, but none came. It didn’t matter, as Smith came up with a very difficult reception at the moment when the Mustangs needed it most.
Again, although neither of these top two plays resulted in the Mustangs earning the win against Park Crossing in the 2nd round, the degree of difficulty was high, and at the time the plays were made, the impact of those plays were crucial to the Mustangs chances to pull out a dramatic victory in Cramton Bowl. They were two plays that both Bradford and Smith will remember for a long time to come.