Mobile Christian’s Jason Todd runs through a big hole during Friday night’s 45-14 win over Thomasville. The No. 1-ranked Leopards won the 3A Region 1 title and Todd ran for 109 yards on 12 carries. (Mike Kittrell/Call News)
Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell has taken the Leopards to their first 10-0 regular season since joining the AHSAA. Now Mobile Christian is aiming for its first Blue Map. (Mike Kittrell/Call News)
MOBILE — There are ways Mobile Christian can fail to win the state championship this year.
The bus can break down on the way to Bryant-Denny Stadium or make a wrong turn and get lost in neighboring Oktibbeah County, where the Leopards could break out the footballs and pass the time by scrimmaging with Mississippi State. After all, one opposing coach called Mobile Christian a “small college team” in reverential tones earlier this season.
Or Ronnie Cottrell could forget half of what he has learned as a football coach.
Or the Leopards’ offensive and defensive linemen could be limited to water and stale crackers and have their hands and legs bound together. Or their running backs and receivers could be forced to run blindfolded and backward. Or they could just get beat straight up, an extremely unlikely prospect for a talented team which rarely turns the ball over and wrenches it from others with regularity.
If those are the best possibilities the rest of the state can hope for, it may already be a lost cause to keep the Blue Map out of Mobile Christian’s grasp.
The No. 1-ranked Leopards finished the regular season 10-0 Friday night by flattening previously unbeaten, No. 6 Thomasville 45-14 and demonstrating they likely possess the best-in-class combination of exceptional run/pass balance and big-play terror, a defense that disposes of all evidence of the opposition and excellent special teams.
Afterward, Cottrell called it “a precision team effort,” much in the way an engineer describes meticulously designing a threshing machine.
For months, Cottrell — whose offensive and defensive lines have grinded everything thrown at them into sawdust — has been saying this is the best team he’s had at Mobile Christian, even as he publicly fretted about beating the Tigers, which was either a façade constructed to conceal Cottrell’s royal flush or a degree of consternation which proved utterly unfounded. The flush came before halftime in a rampage which resulted in 233 yards rushing in less than 14 minutes and a 35-0 lead.
The first half was so impressive that the Leopards didn’t even think about throwing the ball when facing a second-and-25, a rarity which came about only because of a personal foul, a delay of game and a touchdown pass which bounced off Aaron Rogers’ chest in the end zone.
They shrugged off the second-and-long by spitting out runs of 19 and 12 yards by P.J. Brown, one of the beneficiaries of a staggering 50 pancake blocks delivered by Mobile Christian’s mammoth offensive line, which averages 280 pounds per man.
Fifty pancakes in 27 minutes of possession time? You don’t see that many at IHOP that quickly, with or without the blueberries.
Sixteen of the pancakes were served up by center Bo Cagle, who along with guards Quaran Prince and Landyn Gardner and tackles Diego Camboia and Bryson Fillingim should have worn aprons with all the batter and syrup splattered about the place.
Thomasville’s defense had allowed only 130 yards on the ground and 14 points per game but had been split open for that much by the time Brown gobbled up 19 yards on a counter play to extricate Mobile Christian from its second-and-25 in the second quarter.
The Tigers tried to stay low to no avail.
“They did a lot of cutting and we tried to bury them,” Cagle said while brushing off some sawdust.
Thomasville’s very good yet very one-dimensional wing-T offense was similarly overwhelmed by the Leopards’ defense, which leads Class 3A against the score and has shut out half of their schedule.
Bear in mind this defense lost Sterling Dixon, one of the best linebackers in the nation, to a transfer last summer. But defensive coordinator Charles Lawson knew he would reap the rewards of experience.
“Once Sterling left, we knew we would still be a great defensive squad because we had all the pieces intact,” Lawson said. “We just moved forward with tunnel vision on being dominant.”
Lawson misses Dixon — “Once you play for me, you are always mine,” he said — but decided to switch from a three-man front to a 4-3 base before Dixon left for Spanish Fort.
“We are so loaded with defensive linemen and knowing that we are in a run-heavy league, I made the transition,” he said.
Lawson has had most of his starters for three years but there was an attitude change this year.
“It’s the same system, the same scouting report, the same film study but this year they came in with a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “They know what I expected, what I demand, and even the seniors are enforcing it on the younger players.
“They think like me and that’s a good thing. They want to get better. Even with a shutout, they’re not satisfied with it. They are still pointing out their mistakes. That tells me we’ve got a championship-type defense.”
Mobile Christian has no obvious frailties front to back. It relies on run stoppers Prince, Treylon Matthews and Jaevin Jenkins, although Fillingim, Davon Young and Bradley Tanner are adept at setting the edge.
“Our guys inside are like a brick wall,” Lawson said. “They’re good at playing their gaps and realigning the offensive line.”
The defensive front keeps blockers from reaching middle linebacker Kentonio Kelly, a three-year starter who leads Class 3A in tackles.
“He’s got over 100 tackles and he hasn’t played a full game,” Lawson said. “That front helps him flow and make plays.”
The active secondary — led by Jason Todd, Carson Stiles, Jordan Woullard, Rogers and Michael Moore — has 15 interceptions “and I’m confident they can play man against anybody,” Lawson said.
Then there is junior end Floyd Dawens-Boucard (6-3, 270), the Leopards’ omnipresent enforcer and the team’s latest major college defensive prospect in a line that has included Andres Fox, Deontae Lawson and Dixon.
“Floyd is a freak of nature,” Lawson said. “He’s got the size and speed; he’s like a skill guy in a big body. He can set the edge and get to the quarterback too. He’s technically sound.”
Boucard sat out the first half Friday night, then made two tackles for losses in just 11 snaps in the second half before being injured on an illegal block below the knees. Despite his absence, the Tigers averaged third-and-9 while Mobile Christian’s offense enjoyed a downhill parade hitched to a team of Clydesdales trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
The swath being cut by this team could take it straight to Tuscaloosa and the Super 7, where the Leopards might finally win a Blue Map after losses in the 2016 and 2019 finals. Nobody else except No. 2-ranked Madison Academy, another private school, can match Mobile Christian’s all-around qualities. Unless their bus gets lost or some weird voodoo takes effect, the Leopards should be waiting on the Mustangs in Bryant-Denny Stadium to settle the state championship on Dec. 7.