After a 4-0 start was derailed by four consecutive losses, St. James football coach Jimmy Perry wasn’t sure how his team would respond.
Neither, it seemed, did his players.
“We’ve got ninth and 10th graders getting major playing time,” senior quarterback C.J. Duncan said. “Most of our line are sophomores and juniors. So you do wonder how they’ll bounce back. But those are great kids. They bounced back strong.”
Duncan ran for three touchdowns, and the Trojans thoroughly dominated Alabama Christian 39-10 to earn a berth in the state playoffs as the fourth seed in Class 4A, Region 2.
The Trojans (5-4, 4-3 Class 4A, Region 2) will close out the regular season next week in a game at Catholic, then travel to Mobile to play UMS-Wright in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We started off strong this year, but we knew the first four games would be preparation for the midseason,” said senior tailback Walker Woodson, who added a 9-yard touchdown run. “Then we had a misstep with Trinity. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot that game, and we needed to bounce back against Henderson, Beauregard and Tallassee.
“We didn’t play it the way we needed to, but we knew we had to come back and get ready to play this game. We could still get in, (the playoffs) and that’s what it’s all about.”
After both teams traded possessions, the Trojans marched 63 yards for a touchdown on a 1-yard sneak by Duncan, but Alabama Christian (3-6, 2-5) responded with a 10-play drive for a 27-yard field goal by Alex Stroud.
The three first downs gained by the Eagles on that drive would be one more than ACA would get the rest of the night against the first-team Trojan defense. But the Eagles kept within striking distance on an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Taylor Norman late in the first half.
“At the beginning of the game, we were playing hard and dominating them, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Woodson said. “We had some stupid penalties, five for 60 (yards) in the first half. We can’t do that and expect to win against some teams. Then we slacked off a little on the kickoff return and after that we knew we couldn’t slack up any more, and we just pounded them.”
ACA managed just five first downs and 39 total yards against the St. James starters and finished with 117 total yards. The Trojan defense, led by Chase Ritter’s four quarterback sacks, recorded two safeties in a six-minute span in the third quarter. One came on Ritter’s sack of quarterback William Taylor in the end zone, and the other came when a fumble kept eluding Taylor before the sophomore finally kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone.
“I was worried about how this team would respond because we’re young, and we haven’t seen how much fight we have on this team,” Ritter said. “Tonight, I think we showed how much potential we have. Hopefully, we’ll keep building on that. At least two more games. And I’d like to play one more (second-round playoff) game on my home field.”
Frank Moody had 193 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, part of a St. James rushing attack that picked up 349 yards on 63 carries.
“Tonight’s game showed what our kids are made of,” Perry said. “We’re very resilient, we don’t let the last game get us down. Playing those three tough (region) games made us better.
“The playoffs are a reward for all the hard work you did in January, through the summer and for a good season. Now, we’re just going to let the chips fall where they may, roll the dice and see how far we can go.”