Late in the first quarter of St. Jude’s game against Linden in the second round of the Class 1A playoffs, the Pirates seemed to have a bit of momentum.
They trailed by a touchdown but had just held sixth-ranked Linden on three plays inside the St. Jude 10 and forced a missed field goal. The Pirates had taken the ball, moved across midfield and were making progress.
Then quarterback Tony Minnifield’s pass tipped off the hands of a receiver and hit the Patriots’ Anthony Robinson right in the numbers.
Robinson returned the pick 63 yards to the St. Jude 4-yard line, where Prentiss McCuiston scored on the next play.
And just like that, the lights went out on the Pirates.
Linden could do no wrong from that point, winning easily 46-0.
“We just didn’t show up ready to play our best tonight,” St. Jude coach Wade Manora said. “That interception was a big momentum shift for us. You can’t make mistakes against a good team like, and they’re a good team. But we just didn’t have it from the start. That’s all you can say. Wasn’t a reason for it. I thought we would play better.”
The Pirates (7-5) couldn’t have played much worse following Linden’s second score.
St. Jude picked up only two more first downs through the third quarter, and both of those came by way of major penalties against Linden. For the rest of the second quarter and the entire third quarter, the Pirates gained just five yards and ran only 12 plays, not counting punts.
In that same span, Linden ran 24 plays, gained 164 yards and scored on runs of 9, 28 and 6 yards.
“They’re a very well coached football team ,” Manora said of Linden. “They came in with a good plan and did the things they needed to to beat us.”
It was a tough way to end a trying season for St. Jude.
The year began with a lot of promise, but sanctions from the Alabama High School Athletic Association, along with a number of transfers, hurt the Pirates’ depth and left Manora playing a number of underclassmen.
As he walked off the field Friday night, Manora pointed to a group of kids dressed in street clothes and standing along the fence line — all of them players who were on the Pirates’ roster at the start of the season — and said: “There’s most of my team right there.”
Asked if the lopsided loss combined with the sanctions and other issues made it a disappointing year, Manora said the opposite was true.
“A lot of our fans came together and really supported this team,” he said. “We had to play a lot of young guys. I’m happy with the way this team performed. I think we did really well to get this far. And I’m really thankful for the fans and the support we received.”