Saraland defensive end Chris Thompson gets to Spanish Fort quarterback Aaden Shamburger as linebacker Cam Laffitte (10) closes in during a 49-7 romp Friday night in Spanish Fort. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland’s Ryan Williams (1) celebrates with Zion Williams (21) and Arterus Moffett (13) after Zion Williams ran in a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter against Spanish Fort Friday night. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
SPANISH FORT — Saraland had just scored to take a 49-0 lead over Spanish Fort in the third quarter Friday night and Spartans coach Jeff Kelly had seen enough, although the perfection they seek had not been attained.
Ryan Williams had just beaten his defender by 10 yards but it seemed like 10 miles. After he got waved through and hopped into the end zone at the end of the 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback K.J. Lacey, even the Saraland fans were subdued by the carnage.
Toros fans had begun scurrying down The Hill almost as fast as the Spartans were scoring, so Kelly, being a sporting sort, felt his offensive starters had done enough damage. But when he sat them down on the bench, you’d have thought Saraland was in a close game. He kept coaching, intently reviewing the good and the bad on what seemed to be a nearly flawless final scoring drive.
Kelly liked the way Lacey had checked into the right protection on the touchdown throw to Williams and finally proclaimed: “Good stuff.”
Kelly admittedly looks more at the mistakes than the good stuff, one reason why his players’ heads don’t get too large for their shiny silver helmets and why they don’t get bored.
“We’ve got to have this huge mindset there is a better version of ourselves out there and we’ve got to find it,” Kelly had said in the preseason.
They’re still looking, a mortifying truism for those remaining on the Spartans’ schedule — the defending Class 6A state champions, one of the best teams in the country, haven’t played their best football yet.
Still, there are signs of greatness. Saraland is developing a killer instinct and isn’t satisfied with merely winning. The Spartans are performing to a self-instilled standard, always seeking the perfect game, as if they are playing themselves.
“I’m sure there is plenty we can improve on,” Kelly said afterward, mulling some dropped passes and five 15-yard penalties. Oh, and his shirttail came untucked.
Spanish Fort — a solid team with four Blue Maps in its trophy case — had nothing it could point to that would have changed the outcome. Even the Spartans’ punt return team beat the Toros 14-7 on two blocked punts for touchdowns in the first quarter.
Spanish Fort is the only regular opponent on Saraland’s schedule with a winning record against the Spartans and many outside of The Land rooted for an upset. But the game was over so quickly and with such startling finality that the Toros’ public-address announcer issued a muted, monotone “Touchdown Spartans” with the lead at 20-0. Eventually, he stopped saying anything about Saraland.
Nobody beats Spanish Fort the way it got beat Friday night, nobody, of course, except the Spartans, who will make everybody look bad. Even Lacey, who calmly found his second and third options for most of his completions, seemed surprised, if not apologetic.
“We weren’t expecting that,” Lacey said. “We thought it would be rougher.”
But this is a team that clearly enjoys getting somebody in their jaws and shaking the life out of them, especially the defense, which makes opponents one-dimensional or even non-dimensional and seems to spool off a new masterwork every week — 14 yards for Murphy, 14 for St. Paul’s, 72 for the Toros while Saraland’s starters were on the field.
Perhaps the only refuge from this defense is being put in a witness protection program.
“If we keep progressing like we’re doing, we’re going to do great things,” said linebacker Jamison Curtis, harkening to the quest for perfection, which would be zero points, zero yards and zero first downs for anybody else.
The offense, with its roster of elite prospects, has averaged 45 points per game and has the enviable problem of finding enough footballs for its playmakers. That includes Williams, the reigning Mr. Football, who had his total touches cut in half through the first three games this year over the same period last season (30-15) but prospered with formations that quickly uncovered Spanish Fort’s man-to-man coverage.
“I’m trying to do a lot more with my touches,” Williams said. “They came out man to man. We just attacked the weak links.”
Observed Lacey: “I thought it was one of the most efficient games we’ve had.” So efficient, and balanced, that the Spartans called 18 passes and 17 runs on five straight scoring drives against the Toros.
That’s about the only thing unpredictable about this team. Other than its 31-30 win over Lipscomb Academy in the season opener — in which it showed it can handle adversity by coming from behind in the sweatbox of a suffocating August night — Saraland is intimidating opponents with early chokeholds, outscoring them 129-7 in the first half and fulfilling a preseason prophecy from Lacey.
“If we come out and set the tone early, we can get in their heads and dominate,” he said.
Domination inevitably brings on comparisons to history but such parallels are unfair and unnecessary. Comparing Lacey to Bryce Young or Williams to Devonta Smith — both Heisman Trophy winners — misses the point. Let’s enjoy them for the players they are in this time and place, for there is no comparison to them.
It’s also far too early to compare the Spartans with the greatest high school football team of all time in Alabama, 1988 Vigor, which I also had the privilege to cover.
Setting Vigor aside, let’s add even more perspective: Saraland must win 50 straight games from this point to tie Clay County’s 55-game winning streak from 1994-1997. It must win four more Blue Maps in a row to tie Hazlewood’s record of five straight from 1988-92.
History will judge Saraland in its own time. For now, the Spartans are playing from a mountaintop and rolling boulders down on everyone else.