How Montgomery Catholic 'took the city back' against Montgomery Academy in state semifinals

Nick Alvarez
Montgomery Advertiser

Aubrey Blackwell arched his head backward and let the raindrops pelt his face. 

His Montgomery Catholic Knights blue pullover clung to an undershirt. Rain pooled in his shoes. The coach had stood underneath a torrential downpour for the better part of three hours for a game few thought the Knights would reach, let alone win, against Montgomery Academy. 

But there Blackwell was, moments after Patrick Ryan's interception sealed a Knights' victory, sprinting at fellow coaches amid a celebration. Half of the crowd erupted and shook cowbells while the other half quieted.

Montgomery Catholic upset Montgomery Academy 35-28 in overtime to reach the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 3A state championship game.

“I’m proud of our guys doing something people told me I can never do here," Blackwell said. 

Lightening delayed kickoff an hour and the skies emptied throughout. The coarse weather only added intrigue to one of the most-anticipated River Region games in the last decade. With six second-half lead changes, turnovers in the final minutes and a walk-off interception, the contest exceeded all expectations.  

Catholic linebacker T.J. Dudley (6) is overcome with emotion after the game at Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Montgomery Catholic defeated Montgomery Academy 35-28 in overtime.

Catholic running back Jeremiah Cobb carried the ball twice in overtime, crossing the goal line on his second try. Montgomery Academy's ensuing possession ended in a fourth-and-goal from nine yards out. On the sidelines, Blackwell noticed the same formation the Eagles (13-1) had converted a fourth down out of earlier in the game. He screamed for Ryan's attention. 

The junior didn't hear Blackwell over a roaring crowd. Though Ryan still spotted the curl route and jumped it, giving Catholic a chance to win its first state football title. 

“Our guys played relentless," Blackwell said, "They’ve done it all year.” 

MA entered as the favorite thanks to its offensive and defensive lines. Thomas Kirkham and Jackson Kelly led the trenches all season, bruising opponents with a run-first offense. The Eagles' gameplan comprised mostly of quarterback runs by Britton Kohn and handoffs to brothers Jashawn and Jamal Cooper. 

The Knights, meanwhile, formulated a big-play offense. Freshman quarterback Caleb McCreary relied on the pairing of Myles Butler and DJ Carter, two impending Division-I wide receivers. Cobb developed behind a patchwork offensive line. 

Catholic's Zach Underwood (8) celebrates after the game at Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Montgomery Catholic defeated Montgomery Academy 35-28 in overtime.

Players only had 10 minutes of warm-ups before kickoff and weather-related issues were apparent. Catholic attempted two passes and both slipped through receivers' hands in its first drive. Blackwell said the Knights changed the strategy after the drops, favoring more run plays. They held some schemes for the second half when the weather would hopefully lend itself to more passing, Blackwell said. 

The game was tied at seven apiece entering the third quarter. In the opening 1:47 of the half, each team scored. Both offenses found success in season-long trends.

Kohn motioned into an empty backfield while under-center, rolled right as if he were running, pulled up and threw it to Chance Wilson for a wide-open touchdown. McCreary and the Knights responded by isolating Carter on the boundary and throwing jump balls. Knights junior TJ Dudley scored a pair out of the team's heavy package. 

That Kohn even attempted passes was a small win for Montgomery Catholic. When the team's played on Sept. 25, a 32-21 MA win, the Eagles exploited the Knights' three first-year starters along the defensive line. But on Friday they swallowed up blocks and let other white jerseys stuff run plays. 

The Eagles answered with creativity. They started to motion multiple running backs each play before sending Kohn to his left. There he repeatedly targeted Jamal Cooper in the flats. Jamal capped a 96-yard, game-tying drive in the fourth quarter with a 41-yard pass through the same route. Minutes later, Jashawn Cooper picked off McCreary and carried in a touchdown to give the Eagles a lead with 4:13 remaining. 

Montgomery Catholic head football coach Aubrey Blackwell talks with his players after the game at Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Montgomery Catholic defeated Montgomery Academy 35-28 in overtime.

“I think I had three heart attacks throughout that whole game, maybe four," Blackwell said. 

After the interception, Blackwell calmed McCreary's nerves on the sideline. "You're gonna have to win this game for us," Blackwell told him. Within 90 seconds, McCreary hit Cobb on an out-route near the end of regulation. 

Then came Cobb's overtime touchdown and Ryan's pick - two plays now etched into the lore of Montgomery Catholic's longest-running rivalry - which led Blackwell to triumphantly say: "We took the city back."