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Mary Montgomery’s ‘Zach Attack’ is more than just offense as defense helps Vikings show the mark of a contender

Mary G. Montgomery cornerback Jariell Lett (1) battles Charles Henderson receiver Jywon Boyd for a pass Thursday night during the Vikings’ 19-7 win in Troy. Lett is a key part of MGM’s vastly improved defense. (Kennedy Roy/Special to the Call News)

TROY — Revenge hasn’t come often, if at all, in Mary G. Montgomery’s football history, and you can’t call what has happened so far this season a revenge tour.

But the Vikings have already reversed two losses from last year, when coach Zach Golson began writing a new history for the program. Solid victories over Williamson (41-2) and Charles Henderson (19-7) have marked the first few steps into 2023 and while those are Class 5A victims, they represent reasons for MGM to believe it can break a lifetime 0-8 playoff record with a lifetime achievement this season.

The win over the Trojans in Troy last Thursday night was telling. The Vikings didn’t play their best on the road, took a shower in penalty flags and still beat a team with an All-America defensive end and excellent skill players which went to the Super 7 last year.

The last time Henderson had been held to a touchdown or less — 699 days ago — gas was still $2.90 a gallon in Alabama and Bryan Harsin was 3-1 at Auburn and being paid $29,829 per point scored.

How things have changed, especially in Semmes, and especially on MGM’s defense, which allowed 37 points per game in 2021 and 23 a game last season.

“Every team that’s going to be great has a really solid defense,” defensive coordinator Alex Page said. “We’ve emphasized what it takes to be a great defense — play fast, play physical and get the ball back to the offense. It’s made a big difference being in the second year of the system. They’re playing with confidence because they know what to do, so they’re playing fast.”

The defense has forced five turnovers already and makes it possible for the Vikings to win at a slower tempo and in a low-scoring game if necessary.

“We’ve got really good players on that side of the ball and we feel confident if we get in that style of play,” Golson said. “The mark of a good team is winning like that. When you get in the playoffs, there are going to be some games like that and it gives our kids and coaches confidence we can win when things get tough.”

Uttering Mary Montgomery and the playoffs in the same sentence was once considered a sign of mental illness. Now it’s expected.

Henderson coach Quinn Hambrite said the Vikings have a chance to be playing in December — and not Dirty Santa either.

“Zach has got them coached up,” he said. “I knew he’d turn that program around. I thought we’d be more competitive. Mary Montgomery has the talent to do what they need to do in 7A. They’ll make noise in 7A. They play fast and they’re physical.”

They also have perhaps the best quarterback in 7A in Jared Hollins and plenty of talent around him, including receiver James Bolton, running back Troy Flowers and the versatile Shondell Harris and Jariell Lett, who lend their speed to the offense when they’re not disposing of ball carriers.

“I feel like we can go a long way,” said Bolton, who wasn’t just talking about big plays.

Hollins’ calm and commanding presence at 6-foot-4 and a panoply of precision — he uncoils balls out of the sky like raindrops into a thimble — gives the Vikings not only big-play capability but the ability to convert clutch downs.

Hollins has completed 25 of 31 passes for 522 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the first two games. That’s an 81% completion rate.

“It’s still early but one of the recipes for having a good team is good quarterback play and good defense,” Golson said. “I think we’ve got that going in the right direction. How far that goes depends on the other things — special teams, offensive line play and staying healthy. We’ve got a chance to be good and I’m excited about where we are. We have to keep getting better.”

Golson has created that precedent. Mary Montgomery won its last six regular-season games after an 0-4 start last year and after getting home from Troy at 4 a.m. Friday and returning to school by 8:30, Golson was back at work with little sleep trying to get the Vikings off to their first 3-0 start since 2007, which will happen if they beat No. 10 Foley in Semmes Friday night.

MGM’s first stern 7A challenge this season could be a festival of big plays. The Vikings have gains of 95, 61, 60, 51, 42 and 33 yards in their 2-0 start. The 2-0 Lions have five-star wide receiver and Auburn commitment Perry Thompson and running back Kolton Nero, who has whaled away for 288 and 271 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns in the first two games.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Page said. “We’re going to have to create confusion for their offensive line. The key against Thompson and Nero is getting them on the ground and limiting their yards after contact. Nero gets hit two times and stays on his feet. But we’ve been tackling well and we have to go against our offense all the time. We have to get our guys down, so we can do it.”

Golson indicated his playbook has barely gotten past the table of contents.

“I’d say we’ve still got quite a few bullets left in the gun,” he said. “In our system, the way we present things gives us unlimited bullets. The kids understand how we pair formations and motions any way we want. We’ve been pretty vanilla so far but it changes week to week. We try to make things similar for us but present it differently to the defense all the time to keep them off balance.”

How many ways can you say explosive play? The Spanish call it “juego explosive.” The French call it “jeu explosif.” In Semmes, it’s the “Zach Attack.” Or as they say down at the Hickory Pit, it’s the Stud Potato.

It’s not half baked to say Mary Montgomery has what it takes to break up the monotonous semifinal pairing of Auburn vs. Central Phenix City, although it’s doubtful Golson will let the Vikings think that far ahead or fall prey to thinking a 3-0 start would be a cause for celebration. He knows it takes a serious team to be among the best in Alabama.

“We’ve stuck with the program and worked hard every day,” Hollins said. “If we continue to do it, we can be a great team.”

Mary Montgomery looks more like a contending 7A team than ever before. But are the Vikings among the elite? Those answers will start coming Friday night.

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