Hillcrest-Evergreen proved records don’t mean anything in the postseason.
The Jaguars played like the superior team in manhandling Montgomery Academy, 35-7, in the first round of the AHSAA Class 3A playoffs Friday night.
“They just whipped us up front,” Montgomery Academy coach Anthony McCall said. “That’s all it was. They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which seldom happens to us, but they did it. I tell you what; they were a lot better in person than what I saw on film.”
Hillcrest (6-5) returned two Barton Lester interceptions for touchdowns in its upset win over the Region 3 champion Eagles (9-2). The Jaguars advanced to the second round for the first time since 1995.
“We knew we were going to play a good, disciplined team,” first-year Hillcrest coach Clinton Smith Jr. said. “We ended up coming out on top.”
Hillcrest snapped Montgomery Academy’s eight-game winning streak. The Eagles finished 6-0 in region play, but couldn’t match Hillcrest’s speed, quickness and physicality in their home playoff defeat.
“You win your region and this is what you get as a fourth-seed team,” said McCall about the Jaguars, who finished 3-3 in Region 1 play. “They’re not a fourth-seed team. They’re not close to that. They did the things they had to do. They capitalized on our mistakes. They didn’t make many, if any. My hats off to Coach (Smith), they did a great job. Everything was clicking for them. It was their night.”
Trailing 16-0, Montgomery Academy called a timeout with six seconds in the first half left looking to heave a Hail Mary pass for a score. Inside Hillcrest territory, Lester dropped back and threw the ball to a receiver running a deep route, but the receiver didn’t turn around looking for the ball.
Senior Tyrell Riley stepped in front of the pass and raced down the sidelines 80 yards for a touchdown as the Jaguars took a 23-0 halftime lead.
“We hadn’t had field position all game,” McCall said. “So I’m thinking, let’s throw one up and see if we can get it. It turned out to be a pick 6 so instead of going down two scores, you’re going down three. That was huge, but they just whipped us up front. Pulled every string I could. Nothing happened.”
Smith Jr. reminded his team that Hillcrest blew a 20-0 halftime lead in the playoffs two years ago. The Jaguars didn’t allow history to repeat itself Friday night.
“Some of these seniors were actually on that team,” Smith Jr. said. “They knew. So I just told them to calm down. The game is not over. We’ve got four quarters to play. Keep our foot on the pedal and we were going to be successful.”