With a stop sign looming in the distance, Mobile Christian’s defense swarms a St. Stanislaus ballcarrier on fourth-and-goal at the 1 during a spring game in Poplarville, Miss., on May 18. Landyn Gardner (79) in the middle is folding up the running back as Trey Matthews (54) and Quaran Prince (77) close ranks. The goal-line stand helped the Leopards’ starters win 21-7. (Photo courtesy of K&A Photography)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Mobile Christian has been better known for its skill players under coach Ronnie Cottrell but if a Blue Map is hoisted in December, his big men will be doing the heavy lifting.
A goal-line stand by the defense and the offensive line’s consistent push in a 21-7 spring-game win over St. Stanislaus demonstrated Mobile Christian’s strength at the line of scrimmage.
“I like this team,” Cottrell said after the victory in Poplarville, Miss., on May 18. “From a defensive perspective, I think we’ll be outstanding. This could be one of the best offensive lines I’ve had here. I think we can do extremely well in 3A.”
Make no mistake, the Leopards’ goal is winning the school’s first AHSAA state football championship, particularly after being forced to forfeit three region wins last year for using an ineligible player. Despite that, Mobile Christian won six straight games before losing in the semifinals to be denied a third appearance in the Super 7.
Cottrell said his players are still rankled by what happened.
“This is an outstanding senior group,” he said. “They’ve been very focused since the season was over and they played that way Thursday. I sense they have a chip on their shoulders. They want to make this season special.”
If that happens, it will be due to the Leopards’ defensive front, led by Alabama commitment and four-star linebacker/defensive end Sterling Dixon, and the offensive line, anchored by junior center Bo Cagle, who is developing into a major college prospect.
“The offensive line got a lot of movement and the defensive line held the point (of attack),” Cottrell said. “You can see our strength program has helped our team.”
The defensive line played so well that Dixon made only four tackles, including one for a big loss. The goal-line stand featured two plays from inside the 3-yard line made by players not named Dixon, a good sign he’ll have plenty of help.
“We do have a clearer picture, especially what our defense looks like,” Cottrell said. “They were phenomenal. When your defensive line can hold the point and keep people off your linebackers, it’s hard to not be successful.”
Junior linebacker Aiden Ransom made the stop on third down and on fourth-and-goal from the 1 the interior defensive linemen were stones. Junior defensive lineman Jaevin Jenkins had five tackles, including three for losses.
“Defensively, we’ve got a lot of experience and talent,” Cottrell said. “When you have (safety) Camden Lawson on the back end and Sterling up front, we’re playing very well and connected.”
While Cottrell will have inexperienced quarterbacks in sophomore Damian Gaston and freshman Jamison Roberts and a freshman running back, P.J. Brown, to start the season, their youth will be mitigated by an experienced offensive line led by Cagle, Diego Camboia and Bryson Fillingim.
Amazingly, Mobile Christian had no turnovers in the spring game with a freshman and a sophomore handling the snaps.
“We took care of the ball,” Cottrell said.
Gaston was 9-of-12 passing for 85 yards and a 13-yard touchdown to Carson Cooper, which impressed Cottrell. Gaston eluded the rush, reversed field and found Cooper on the baseline.
“It was a very poised play,” Cottrell said. “Both quarterbacks played well. I was particularly pleased with their ability to keep their eyes downfield and make plays.”
Brown had 61 yards on five carries and TD runs of 12 and 15 yards. Junior wide receiver Jordan Woullard added four catches for 62 yards.
New artificial turf is being installed at Harrison Stadium in June and the Leopards are looking forward to playing four of their first five games there.