LEROY — The sign adjacent to U.S. Highway 43 has remained unchanged for years, much like the success of Leroy’s football team.
“The churches of Leroy welcome you,” it says.
Then there is the church of the Bears, which cuts across all denominational lines, as well as the line of scrimmage, and is most unwelcoming and unequal on the scoreboard.
On Friday night, that scoreboard again tilted severely to the left when Leroy defeated heretofore undefeated St. Luke’s 42-10. That’s a good Class 2A team the defending Class 1A state champions beat into the parched soil of Washington County, one that was 5-0 for the first time in school history and will likely win its region.
But Leroy scored on offense, defense and special teams and coach Jason Massey — in a parting gesture before reporting for National Guard duty — probably even conjured up the swarm of thirsty gnats and mosquitoes, which the Wildcats had to clear out of their noses, mouths and ears when they themselves weren’t being swatted down with certainty. The Bears allowed only 15 yards after contact, which was the most impressive statistic of the night.
It was the ninth straight home win for Leroy by a combined 366-51. The last time the Bears lost a regular-season home game to a team in its own class was a 38-35 loss to St. Luke’s in 2017, which they are probably still riled about since they don’t forget such things around here. And Leroy still went on to the state championship game that year.
Reaching the finals will happen again this season in all probability, although No. 4-ranked Millry will have a say about it on Oct. 27. That’s when the Wildcats will pass through the gate and by the six state championship plaques on the Bears’ Wall of Champions, in what might be a preview of the de facto Class 1A state championship game if they play again in the semifinals. By then, it could be the state’s best 1A offense (Millry) against the state’s best 1A defense (Leroy). The schools aren’t likely to lose before then since St. Luke’s is the only team with a winning record No. 1-ranked Leroy will face in that span and the same is true for the Wildcats.
The rivals split last year but the Bears won the one that mattered in the semifinals, then went on to splatter Pickens County 42-20 in the Super 7.
Can we draw any inferences on what will happen this year?
Millry wouldn’t be contending for a state championship if quarterback Daylon Edmunds had not returned after transferring to Gulf Shores in the summer and finding the grass is not greener on the beach than it is atop Wildcat Hill. Meanwhile, Leroy is dominating even without injured star receiver Taylor Crumedy.
The Bears know they are built for state championships while Millry knows it must still prove itself, although it has won two of its last three games over Leroy and its program is at an all-time peak.
The Wildcats also know a 36-14 win over the Bears in the 2022 regular season didn’t stop Leroy from winning when it counted most, a psychological barrier Millry must pop. If that happens, the Wildcats could win their first Blue Map and continue to make Washington County the center of 1A power in the state.
Six in the Super 7?
The southern part of the state could have six teams in the Super 7 this season — Mary G. Montgomery (7A), Saraland (6A), Vigor (5A), Jackson (4A), Mobile Christian (3A) and Leroy or Millry (1A).
Outstanding quarterbacks make a difference in the playoffs and those teams have them in abundance in MGM’s Jared Hollins, Saraland’s K.J. Lacey, Vigor’s Jerrian Graham, Jackson’s Landon Duckworth, Leroy’s Brayden Huebner and Millry’s Edmunds. And Mobile Christian’s Damien Gatson is developing into a big-play passing threat to complement the Leopards’ overpowering running game.
Nobody should snicker about the Vikings’ chances since they have built the No. 2 defense against the score in 7A to go with Hollins and his supporting cast. And four-time champion Thompson showed its vulnerability in a 36-33 loss to Clay-Chalkville last week.
Worthy foe for Saraland?
Many believe the No. 2-ranked Cougars have emerged as a worthy adversary to Saraland in Class 6A after Jaylen Mbakwe scored five touchdowns in the win over Thompson. Clay-Chalkville would love to do the unthinkable twice in one season by beating the No. 1 Spartans in the Class 6A state championship game, especially since they didn’t get to play last year after the Cougars got upset in the first round.
One player should not be able to beat Saraland’s defense but one player shouldn’t have beaten Thompson either. Still, Mbakwe playing both ways won’t work well against a team with the talent and balance of the Spartans, who are obliterating opponents, have set school records for scoring in consecutive weeks and haven’t peaked. Saraland has outscored its opponents 317-66 for the biggest differential in the state per game (41.8 points).
Circle Dec. 8 on the calendar, when Mbakwe and Ryan Williams, Alabama’s two five-star commitments, might collide in Bryant-Denny Stadium and draw a record-breaking crowd in the final game of the Super 7.